Oct 012017
 

On this date in 959 CE Edgar the Peaceful became king of all England. Before I get into details about Edgar let me dribble on for a while about the history of Anglo-Saxon England, particularly about how it is conceived in standard school textbooks. As a schoolboy I was taught that the BIG EVENT in English history was the conquest by William the Bastard in 1066.  Anglo-Saxon history was no more than a series of cute vignettes, such as Alfred and the cakes, or Canute commanding the waves. The rest was irrelevant to the REAL history of England which began with William. This is pure propaganda, still fed to us by the line of monarchs that followed down to the current useless bunch. If you look closely at the history of post-conquest England you’ll see that for about 100 years, following William, England was nothing more than a province of Normandy (or various other French power blocs) as far as its kings were concerned. The kings spoke French and spent most of their time away from England. England was nothing more than a source of income and labor. Richard I, vaunted by Victorian Romantics as the GREAT KING, spoke French, and when he wasn’t Crusading was battling enemies in continental Europe. He spent no more than a few months in England during his entire reign. His brother, John, on the other hand, was reviled by the Victorians because of Magna Carta and the like.

Go here for much more of my thoughts on all of this:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/richard-lionheart/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/king-john/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/magna-carta/

The fact is that William, while he unified England in certain critical ways, was not by any means the first king of England. Who was the first king of a unified England will be debated endlessly, no doubt. Some say it was Alfred the Great (849 –  899), some, his grandson, Æthelstan (c. 894 – 939). I’ll leave you to read the details elsewhere.  No one disputes that Edgar I was king of all England with provincial kings under him, although, like Alfred and Æthelstan, he is sometimes called king of the English.

Edgar I (Old English: Ēadgār – “happy spear” i.e. powerful) was the son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. Upon the death of Edmund in 946, Edgar’s uncle, Eadred, ruled until 955. Eadred was succeeded by his nephew, Eadwig, son of Edmund (Edgar’s older brother). Eadwig was not a popular king, and his reign was marked by conflict with nobles and the Church, primarily St Dunstan and Archbishop Oda. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria changed their allegiance to Edgar. A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames. Edgar became king of all England on Eadwig’s death October 959, aged just 16.

One of Edgar’s first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester (and subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury). Dunstan remained Edgar’s advisor throughout his reign. While Edgar may not have been a particularly passive man, his reign was peaceful. The kingdom of England was well established, and Edgar consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors. By the end of his reign, England was sufficiently unified in that it was unlikely to regress back to a state of division among rival kingships, as it had to an extent under the reign of his uncle Eadred. In fact, some historians have argued that it was Edgar who was the truly pivotal figure in uniting all England by standardizing laws throughout the kingdom – far more than either Alfred or Æthelstan. In a letter to his subjects Canute states, ”it is my will that all the nation, ecclesiastical and lay, shall steadfastly observe Edgar’s laws, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford”.

The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England’s monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald, although the extent and significance of this movement is still debated.

Edgar was crowned at Bath and, along with his wife Ælfthryth, was anointed, setting a precedent for a coronation of a queen in England. Edgar’s coronation did not occur until 973, planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign, and which took a considerable amount of preliminary diplomacy with lesser kings. The coronation service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony. The coronation was an important symbolic step towards further unification. Other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king’s liege-men on sea and land. Later chroniclers made the kings into eight, all plying the oars of Edgar’s state barge on the River Dee.

Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He left behind Edward, who was probably his illegitimate son by Æthelflæd (not to be confused with the Lady of the Mercians), and Æthelred the younger, the child of his wife Ælfthryth. He was succeeded by Edward.

As it happens, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  was published first on this date in 1861.  I’ve mentioned it numerous times before when I’ve needed Victorian recipes as well as here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/isabella-beeton/

As it also happens, she had a lot to say about Anglo-Saxons and their cooking. To begin she has a point to make about food and the English language that I have taught numerous times.

NAMES OF ANIMALS SAXON, AND OF THEIR FLESH NORMAN.—The names of all our domestic animals are of Saxon origin; but it is curious to observe that Norman names have been given to the different sorts of flesh which these animals yield. How beautifully this illustrates the relative position of Saxon and Norman after the Conquest. The Saxon hind had the charge of tending and feeding the domestic animals, but only that they might appear on the table of his Norman lord. Thus ‘ox,’ ‘steer,’ ‘cow,’ are Saxon, but ‘beef’ is Norman; ‘calf’ is Saxon, but ‘veal’ Norman; ‘sheep’ is Saxon, but ‘mutton’ Norman; so it is severally with ‘deer’ and ‘venison,’ ‘swine’ and ‘pork,’ ‘fowl’ and ‘pullet.’ ‘Bacon,’ the only flesh which, perhaps, ever came within his reach, is the single exception.

She goes on to say later:

THE HOG IN ENGLAND.—From time immemorial, in England, this animal has been esteemed as of the highest importance. In the Anglo-Saxon period, vast herds of swine were tended by men, who watched over their safety, and who collected them under shelter at night. At that time, the flesh of the animal was the staple article of consumption in every family, and a large portion of the wealth of the rich freemen of the country consisted of these animals. Hence it was common to make bequests of swine, with lands for their support; and to these were attached rights and privileges in connection with their feeding, and the extent of woodland to be occupied by a given number was granted in accordance with established rules. This is proved by an ancient Saxon grant, quoted by Sharon Turner, in his “History of the Anglo-Saxons,” where the right of pasturage is conveyed in a deed by the following words:—”I give food for seventy swine in that woody allotment which the countrymen call Wolferdinlegh.”

This all leads me to think that a dish of boiled bacon is the answer. As Beeton tells us, bacon was the common meat of the Anglo-Saxons, and boiled bacon would have been something festive for many people.  We’re not talking about the common sliced breakfast bacon, but a full rolled joint. It might be a little difficult to find but you could make one yourself.  That’s a recipe for another time.  Here’s Beeton. I usually add some potatoes, carrots, and onions to the water when I am boiling the bacon. I serve it with hot English mustard (along with peas or broad beans to go with the potatoes and carrots).  Potatoes don’t match the Anglo-Saxon period, of course, but everything else does.

BOILED BACON.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Bacon; water.

Mode.—As bacon is frequently excessively salt, let it be soaked in warm water for an hour or two previous to dressing it; then pare off the rusty parts, and scrape the under-side and rind as clean as possible. Put it into a saucepan of cold water, let it come gradually to a boil, and as fast as the scum rises to the surface of the water, remove it. Let it simmer very gently until it is thoroughly done; then take it up, strip off the skin, and sprinkle over the bacon a few bread raspings, and garnish with tufts of cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. When served alone, young and tender broad beans or green peas are the usual accompaniments.

Time.—1 lb. of bacon, 1/4 hour; 2 lbs., 1-1/2 hour.

Average cost, 10d. to 1s. per lb. for the primest parts.

Sufficient.—2 lbs., when served with poultry or veal, sufficient for 10 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

 

Aug 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1906) of Sir John Betjeman, English poet, writer, and broadcaster who described himself in Who’s Who as a “poet and hack”. He was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death. In his own words:

I was born in London and so were my parents. I have lived in London most of my life. I was born in 1906. I am a poet and prose-writer, particularly on English architecture and topography. I founded and for many years edited the Shell Guides. I edited Collins’ Guide to English Parish Churches. I started in journalism as Assistant Editor of the Architectural Review. I was for some years architectural correspondent to the Daily Telegraph. I am a Companion of Literature and an Honorary Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Until my extended term of office expired last year. I was a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I am an honorary advisor to the Historic Buildings Committee of the GLC and one of her Majesty’s Commissioners of Ancient Monuments.

I’ll add a (very) little to this, but mostly appraise his poetry. Betjeman is a bit of a kindred spirit of mine in a way. He detested Oxford University teaching but enjoyed the overall experience (particularly the libraries and the fellow students), loved the English countryside, traveled a great deal, and saw humor in even mundane things.  Where we part company is in our view of England in general. His England was a comforting and reassuring home for him, full of foibles that could be endearing or irritating.  I mostly find the country irritating, with endearing bits around the edges.

Betjeman was born “John Betjemann”. His parents, Mabel (née Dawson) and Ernest Betjemann, had a family firm at 34–42 Pentonville Road which manufactured the kind of ornamental household furniture and gadgets distinctive to Victorians. The family name was changed to the less German-looking “Betjeman” during the First World War. His father’s forebears had actually come from the present-day Netherlands and had, ironically, added the extra “-n” during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War to avoid the anti-Dutch sentiment existing at the time, more than a century earlier, setting up their home and business in Islington, in north London.

Betjeman was baptized at St Anne’s Church, Highgate Rise, a 19th-century church at the foot of Highgate West Hill. The family lived at Parliament Hill Mansions in the Lissenden Gardens private estate in Gospel Oak in north London. In 1909, the Betjemanns moved half a mile north to more opulent Highgate. Betjeman’s early schooling was at the local Byron House and Highgate School, where he was taught by T. S. Eliot. After this, he boarded at the Dragon School preparatory school in North Oxford and Marlborough College, a public school in Wiltshire. In his penultimate year, he joined the secret Society of Amici in which he was a contemporary of both Louis MacNeice and Graham Shepard. He founded The Heretick, a satirical magazine that lampooned Marlborough’s obsession with sport. While at school, his exposure to the works of Arthur Machen won him over to High Church Anglicanism, a conversion of importance to his later writing and conception of the arts.

Betjeman entered the University of Oxford with difficulty, having failed the mathematics portion of the university’s matriculation exam, Responsions. He was, however, admitted as a commoner (i.e. a non-scholarship student) at Magdalen College and entered the newly created School of English Language and Literature. At Oxford, Betjeman made little use of the academic opportunities. His tutor, a young C. S. Lewis, regarded him as an “idle prig” and Betjeman in turn considered Lewis unfriendly, demanding, and uninspired as a teacher. Betjeman particularly disliked the coursework’s emphasis on linguistics, and dedicated most of his time to cultivating his social life and his interest in English ecclesiastical architecture, and to private literary pursuits.

Here I resonate very much with Betjeman.  I have no doubt that Lewis was a self-important prick who looked down on his students. His writings on Christianity are grotesquely simplistic and the Chronicles of Narnia are not much better – 19th century “muscular Christianity” dressed up as fantasy. He was the quintessence of the Oxford scholar I could not stomach at any cost: thinking that all things in the world worth knowing are contained within half a mile of Carfax, and the top of Magdalen tower is the pinnacle of the universe.

At Oxford Betjeman was a friend of Maurice Bowra, later (1938 to 1970) to be Warden of Wadham. Betjeman had a poem published in Isis, the university magazine, and served as editor of the Cherwell student newspaper during 1927. His first book of poems was privately printed with the help of fellow student Edward James. He famously brought his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore up to Magdalen with him, the memory of which inspired his Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh to include Sebastian Flyte’s teddy, Aloysius, in Brideshead Revisited.

It is a common misapprehension, cultivated by Betjeman himself, that he did not complete his degree because he failed to pass the compulsory holy scripture examination, known colloquially as “Divvers”, short for “Divinity”. In Hilary term 1928, Betjeman failed Divinity for the second time. He had to leave the university for the Trinity term to prepare for a retake of the exam. Betjeman then wrote to the Secretary of the Tutorial Board at Magdalen, G. C. Lee, asking to be entered for the Pass School, a set of examinations taken on rare occasions by undergraduates who are deemed unlikely to achieve an honours degree. In Summoned by Bells Betjeman claims that his tutor, C. S. Lewis, said “You’d have only got a third” – but he had informed the tutorial board that he thought Betjeman would not achieve an honours degree of any class.

Permission to sit the Pass School was granted. Betjeman famously decided to offer a paper in Welsh. Osbert Lancaster tells the story that a tutor came by train twice a week (first class) from Aberystwyth to teach Betjeman. However, Jesus College had a number of Welsh tutors who more probably would have taught him. Betjeman finally had to leave at the end of the Michaelmas term, 1928. He did pass his Divinity examination on his third try but was sent down (expelled) after failing the Pass School. He had achieved a satisfactory result in only one of the three required papers (on Shakespeare and other English authors). Betjeman’s academic failure at Oxford rankled with him for the rest of his life and he was never reconciled with C.S. Lewis, towards whom he nursed a bitter detestation. This situation was perhaps complicated by his enduring love of Oxford, from which he accepted an honorary doctorate of letters in 1974.

This all seems wearily familiar. The vast bulk of my friends at Oxford plodded through their work and got average degrees before settling into a lifetime of drudgery in civil service, the military, or middle management; a sprinkling were meteorically successful so that I include among my erstwhile companions, Nobel laureates, knights bachelor, Oxford college heads, bishops, and the like; and a few, like myself and Betjeman, found the academic system laughably rigid and stupid, and so spent our time educating ourselves in the things that mattered to us and, having barely crawled through the examinations, found successes in various arenas of life.

Betjeman’s poems are often humorous, and in broadcasting he exploited his bumbling and fogeyish image. His wryly comic verse is accessible and has attracted a great following for its satirical and observant grace. W.H. Auden (an Oxford friend) wrote in his introduction to Slick But Not Streamlined that Betjeman was “so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.” His poetry is similarly redolent of time and place, continually seeking out intimations of the eternal in the manifestly ordinary. There are constant evocations of the physical chaff and clutter that accumulates in everyday life, the miscellanea of an England now gone but not beyond the reach of living memory.

In a 1962 radio interview he told teenage questioners that he could not write about ‘abstract things’, preferring places, and faces. Philip Larkin wrote of his work, “how much more interesting & worth writing about Betjeman’s subjects are than most other modern poets, I mean, whether so-and-so achieves some metaphysical inner unity is not really so interesting to us as the overbuilding of rural Middlesex.”

Here’s one of his earliest poems which I like partly because its appraisal of death is, at best, comically sardonic, and partly because I lived for a year in Leamington which is the perfectly lackluster setting for a lackluster demise.

Death In Leamington

She died in the upstairs bedroom
By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
From over Leamington Spa

Beside her the lonely crochet
Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs-
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window,
She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
She covered the fire with coal.

And “Tea!” she said in a tiny voice
“Wake up! It’s nearly five”
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
Half dead and half alive.

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
Drifted into the place.

She moved the table of bottles
Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
Turned down the gas in the hall.

Some of his poems have been set, quite successfully, to music. This one, “A Shropshire Lad,” concerning the death of Capt. Webb, famed channel swimmer (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/captain-webb/ ), has been popular among my friends for years.

His pre-war poem (1937), “Slough,” takes issue with the general quality of life in the new Trading Estate in Slough with its grimy and faceless factories, opening with the now famous lines:

Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now . . .

Bombs did, in fact, fall on Slough during the Second World War and Betjeman later repudiated the poem although it was not written so much about Slough in particular but about burgeoning industrial growth in general. On the centenary of Betjeman’s birth in 2006, his daughter, Candida Lycett-Green, visited Slough and apologized for the poem saying her father “regretted having ever written it”. During her visit, Mrs Lycett-Green presented the mayor of Slough, David MacIsaac, with a book of her father’s poems. In it she wrote: “We love Slough”.

In the first series of The Office, which is set in Slough, Ricky Gervais, in the character of David Brent, reads extracts of the poem interjected with comments such as, “You don’t solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place.”

In his deeply ironic “In Westminster Abbey” Betjeman shows his true feelings for people who pray for bombs to fall:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
    Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.
 

Keep our Empire undismembered
    Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
    Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

 

Betjeman loved Victorian architecture and crusaded in its favor at a time when Victorian arts in general were lampooned as outdated and cluttered monstrosities. His statue stands outside St Pancras station in London which was in danger of being torn down until he put up a vigorous campaign to stop the destruction.

Victorian desserts are similarly ornately over the top so go for broke.

Meanwhile I’ll go with something a little less flamboyant in looks, but outrageously delicious: apple snow.  First, Mrs Beeton:

APPLE SNOW.

(A pretty Supper Dish.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—10 good-sized apples, the whites of 10 eggs, the rind of 1 lemon, 1/2 lb. of pounded sugar.

Mode.—Peel, core, and cut the apples into quarters, and put them into a saucepan with the lemon-peel and sufficient water to prevent them from burning,—rather less than 1/2 pint. When they are tender, take out the peel, beat them to a pulp, let them cool, and stir them to the whites of the eggs, which should be previously beaten to a strong froth. Add the sifted sugar, and continue the whisking until the mixture becomes quite stiff; and either heap it on a glass dish, or serve it in small glasses. The dish may be garnished with preserved barberries, or strips of bright-coloured jelly; and a dish of custards should be served with it, or a jug of cream.

Time.—From 30 to 40 minutes to stew the apples.

Average cost, 1s. 6d.

Sufficient to fill a moderate-sized glass dish.

Seasonable from July to March.

Next a video of an even more decadent recipe for apple snow that includes the cream that Beeton serves on the side.

May 122017
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Pancras whose life I will focus on briefly.  Chiefly, though, I want to talk about the area of London, St Pancras, that is informally named for him, in part because I stayed there a couple of months ago and found it somewhat appealing (and rather new to me), especially because of the grand old Victorian train station.

St Pancras was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity, and was beheaded for his faith at the age of 14 around the year 304. Traditionally, St Pancras is the second of the Ice Saints. The Ice Saints’ days span May 11th to 13th which, in many northern European countries, are superstitiously considered to be a time when the spring experiences a cold snap (the opposite of Indian Summer in autumn).

Because he was said to have been martyred at the age of 14 during the persecution under Diocletian, Pancras would have been born around 289, at a place designated as “near Synnada,” a city of Phrygia Salutaris, to parents of Roman citizenship. His mother Cyriada died during childbirth, while his father Cleonius died when Pancras was 8 years old. Pancras was entrusted to his uncle Dionysius’ care. They both moved to Rome to live in a villa on the Caelian Hill. They converted to Christianity, and Pancras became a zealous adherent of the religion.

During the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, around 303 he was brought before the authorities and asked to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Diocletian, impressed with the boy’s determination to resist, promised him wealth and power, but Pancras refused, and finally the emperor ordered him to be beheaded on the Via Aurelia, on 12 May 303.  This traditional year of his martyrdom cannot be squared with the saint’s defiance of Diocletian in Rome, which the emperor had not visited since 286. A Roman matron named Ottavilla reputedly recovered Pancras’ body, covered it with balsam, wrapped it in precious linens, and buried it in a newly built sepulchre dug in the Catacombs of Rome. Pancras’ head was placed in the reliquary that supposedly still exists today in the Basilica of Saint Pancras.

Devotion to Pancras definitely existed from the 5th century onwards, because the basilica of Saint Pancras was built by Pope Symmachus (498-514), on the place where the body of the young martyr was supposed to have been buried. Pope Gregory the Great (540 – 604) gave impetus to the cult of Pancras, sending Augustine to England carrying relics of that saint and including his legend in Liber in gloria martyrum (for this reason, many English churches are dedicated to Pancras.

St Pancras Old Church in London is one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England. Information panels outside the church today state that it “stands on one of Europe’s most ancient sites of Christian worship, possibly dating back to the early 4th century” and has been a “site of prayer and meditation since 314 AD.” The case for these claims seems first to have been argued by local historian Charles Lee in 1955, who wrote:

There can be little doubt that a Roman encampment was situated opposite the site of St Pancras Church about this period, and that the church is on the site of a Roman Compitum, which served as a centre of public worship and public meeting… It seems probable that the Roman Compitum at St Pancras was adapted to Christian worship shortly after the restoration of religious freedom in 313 (taking its name from the recently-martyred Pancras).

Lee’s “Roman encampment” was “Caesar’s Camp at Pancras called the Brill”, identified by the antiquary William Stukeley in the 1750s. However, even Stukeley’s contemporaries could see no trace of this camp, and considered that Stukeley had let his imagination run away with him. Gillian Tindall has suggested that the lumps and bumps in the fields to the west of the church that Stukeley interpreted as a Roman camp were actually traces of the original medieval village of St. Pancras, before the center of the settlement moved north to the area now known as Kentish Town.

Originally, the parish of St Pancras stretched from close to Oxford Street almost to Highgate. In the early Middle Ages there was a center of population in the vicinity of what is now known as the old church. However, in the 14th century the population abandoned the site and moved to what is now Kentish Town. The reasons for this were probably the vulnerability of the plain around the church to flooding (the River Fleet, which is now underground, runs through it) and the availability of better wells at Kentish Town, where there is less clay in the soil. The church subsequently fell into disrepair. Towards the end of the 18th century, services were only held in the church on one Sunday each month; on other weeks, the same congregation would use a chapel in Kentish Town. It lost its status as the parish church when the New Church on what was to become the Euston Road was consecrated in 1822, and became a chapel of ease.

St Pancras railway station is a Victorian gem which in the 1960s (when most people, myself included, considered it a gaudy monstrosity) was scheduled to be demolished. Instead, it was smartened up and renovated. Now I find it quite attractive (still a bit gaudy), and glad it was preserved to represent Victorian London – the kind of railway station Sherlock Holmes would have used (Baker Street is not far away). The station was commissioned by the Midland Railway in the 1860s. Before then the company had a network of routes in the Midlands, and in south and west Yorkshire and Lancashire but no route of its own to the capital. Up to 1857 the company had no line into London, and used the lines of the London and North Western Railway for trains into the capital. After 1857 the company’s Leicester and Hitchin Railway gave access to London via the Great Northern Railway.

In 1862, traffic for the second International Exhibition suffered extensive delays over the stretch of line into London over the Great Northern Railway’s track; the route into London via the London and North Western was also at capacity, with coal trains causing the network at Rugby and elsewhere to reach effective gridlock. This was the stimulus for the Midland to build its own line to London from Bedford.

The station was designed by William Henry Barlow. The approaching line to the station crossed the Regent’s Canal resulting in the level of the line at St Pancras being 12 to 17 ft (3.7 to 5.2 m) above ground level. Initial plans were for a two or three span roof with the void between station and ground level filled with spoil from tunneling to join the Midland Main Line to the St. Pancras branch. Instead, due to the value of the land in such a location the lower area was used for freight, in particular beer from Burton.  As a result the undercroft was built with columns and girders, maximizing space, set out to the same plans as those used for beer warehouses, and with a basic unit of length that of a beer barrel.

I’ve called on Mrs Beeton for a suitable Victorian recipe, and come up with gravy soup. In some ways this soup reminds me of the potential for English cooking to be questionable, and for railway cafeterias to perpetuate that idea. But . . . it has interesting (and redeeming) features. The quantities alone suggest to me that Beeton copied this recipe from an older cookbook used for giant households. But she gives a note on endive, as it is used in the recipe, noting that it was a very common ingredient in and around London at the time.  She also uses two sauces in the recipe: Harvey’s and Leamington. Harvey’s sauce was a proprietary brand made by fermenting anchovies, and for Leamington sauce she specifically notes that this is her own recipe. I’d suggest giving it a go, but cutting down on the 11 pounds of meat. Below her recipe for Leamington sauce I give a 19th century recipe for Harvey’s sauce.

GRAVY SOUP.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 lbs. of shin of beef, a knuckle of veal weighing 5 lbs., a few pieces or trimmings, 2 slices of nicely-flavoured lean, ham; 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, nearly a head of celery, 1 blade of mace, 6 cloves, a hunch of savoury herb with endive, seasoning of salt and pepper to taste, 3 lumps of sugar, 5 quarts of boiling soft water. It can be flavoured with ketchup, Leamington sauce (see SAUCES), Harvey’s sauce, and a little soy.

Mode.—Slightly brown the meat and ham in the butter, but do not let them burn. When this is done, pour to it the water, and as the scum rises, take it off; when no more appears, add all the other ingredients, and let the soup simmer slowly by the fire for 6 hours without stirring it any more from the bottom; take it off, and let it settle; skim off all the fat you can, and pass it through a tammy. When perfectly cold, you can remove all the fat, and leave the sediment untouched, which serves very nicely for thick gravies, hashes, &c.

Time.—7 hours. Average cost, 1s. per quart.

Seasonable all the year.

Sufficient for 14 persons.

ENDIVE.—This plant belongs to the acetarious tribe of vegetables, and is supposed to have originally come from China and Japan. It was known to the ancients; but was not introduced to England till about the middle of the 16th century. It is consumed in large quantities by the French, and in London,—in the neighbourhood of which it is grown in abundance;—it is greatly used as a winter salad, as well as in soups and stews.

LEAMINGTON SAUCE (an Excellent Sauce for Flavouring Gravies, Hashes,

Soups, &c.).

(Author’s Recipe.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Walnuts. To each quart of walnut-juice allow 3 quarts of vinegar, 1 pint of Indian soy, 1 oz. of cayenne, 2 oz. of shalots, 3/4 oz. of garlic, 1/2 pint of port wine.

Mode.—Be very particular in choosing the walnuts as soon as they appear in the market; for they are more easily bruised before they become hard and shelled. Pound them in a mortar to a pulp, strew some salt over them, and let them remain thus for two or three days, occasionally stirring and moving them about. Press out the juice, and to each quart of walnut-liquor allow the above proportion of vinegar, soy, cayenne, shalots, garlic, and port wine. Pound each ingredient separately in a mortar, then mix them well together, and store away for use in small bottles. The corks should be well sealed.

Seasonable.—This sauce should be made as soon as walnuts are obtainable, from the beginning to the middle of July.

Original Recipe from Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cooker‘ (Philadelphia, 1851)

HARVEY’S SAUCE

Dissolve six anchovies in a pint of strong vinegar, and then add to them three table-spoonfuls of India soy, and three table-spoonfuls of mushroom catchup, two heads of garlic bruised small, and a quarter of an ounce of cayenne. Add sufficient cochineal powder to colour the mixture red. Let all these ingredients infuse in the vinegar for a fortnight, shaking it every day, and then strain and bottle it for use. Let the bottles be small, and cover the corks with leather.

Mar 142017
 

Today is the birthday (1836) of Isabella Beeton, known now universally as Mrs Beeton, whose recipes from her Book of Household Management I have given here many times.  There’s no great need to review her life and history of publication of her cookbook, which has gone through multiple editions and is still in print. Of course, the recipes from 1861 have gone the way of all things. Later 20th century editions used metric measures, were very precise in their lists of ingredients, and all the recipes were thoroughly kitchen tested.  When I was growing up my mother used a 1939 edition (affectionately known as “Ma Beeton”) which was given to her as a wedding present in 1944, inscribed lovingly by her parents who were born in the Victorian era, and who spent their whole working lives as household servants.  This was my first cookbook too when I was a boy, and I inherited it from my mother after she died.  I always imagined that Mrs Beeton was a starchy mob-capped old Victorian household cook (hence “Ma Beeton”). It never dawned on me that she was a well-to-do woman who died in her twenties until I started exploring her history. I also never realized the vast difference between her recipes and those in later editions until I bought a facsimile of the first edition.  In my oh so humble opinion, the first edition is still the best.  You can peruse it here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10136

In the 20th century the first edition came in for a lot of criticism for being a work of plagiarism and for the assertion that Isabella herself had little knowledge of cooking. Based on my own research I think that this criticism is unfair.

Isabella’s unmarried name was Mayson, and she was born in Marylebone, London. Shortly after Isabella’s birth the family moved to Milk Street, Cheapside, where her father Benjamin traded linen. He died when Isabella was four years old, and her mother, Elizabeth, pregnant and unable to cope with raising the children on her own while maintaining Benjamin’s business, sent her two elder daughters to live with relatives. Isabella went to live with her recently widowed paternal grandfather in Great Orton, Cumberland, though she was back with her mother within the next two years.

Three years after Benjamin’s death Elizabeth married Henry Dorling, a widower with four children. Henry was the Clerk of Epsom Racecourse, and had been granted residence within the racecourse grounds. The family, including Elizabeth’s mother, moved to Surrey and over the next twenty years Henry and Elizabeth had a further 13 children. Isabella was instrumental in her siblings’ upbringing, and collectively referred to them as a “living cargo of children.” The experience gave her a great deal of insight and experience in how to manage a family and its household at an early age.

After a brief education at a boarding school in Islington, in 1851 Isabella was sent to school in Heidelberg, accompanied by her stepsister Jane Dorling. Isabella became proficient in the piano and excelled in French and German.  She also gained knowledge and experience in making pastry. She had returned to Epsom by the summer of 1854 and took further lessons in pastry-making from a local baker. All in all, therefore, to accuse her of simply compiling recipes and household advice from others and then copying it is a gross distortion.  It’s true that she used recipes from the works of others, but this was (and is) normal practice.  Furthermore there is clear evidence that she kitchen tested most, if not all, of her recipes.  Isabella’s half-sister, Lucy Smiles, was asked after her death concerning her memories of the book’s development. She recalled:

Different people gave their recipes for the book. That for Baroness pudding (a suet pudding with a plethora of raisins) was given by the Baroness de Tessier, who lived at Epsom. No recipe went into the book without a successful trial, and the home at Pinner was the scene of many experiments and some failures. I remember Isabella coming out of the kitchen one day, ‘This won’t do at all,’ she said, and gave me the cake that had turned out like a biscuit. I thought it very good. It had currants in it.

I don’t see how you can read this and still think that Isabella was just a rank plagiarist. I think that her sister probably overstates the case in asserting that every recipe was tested, but I am sure the majority were.  What is more to the point is that her recipes are all clear and relatively easy to follow, unlike those of previous generations. She gives lists of ingredients with exact quantities, straightforward directions, and indications of seasonality and cost per person. Her additional remarks about farming practices, hunting, and the like are a bonus. It is true that you need to have some experience in cooking to follow her recipes, and you need to know something about the Victorian kitchen to make sense of the directions sometimes. If you’re not familiar with cooking on a wood-fired stove (which I am) you can get a little lost from time to time, but experience ought to direct you. The reason I give her recipes here frequently is that they are good recipes, and I applaud her on her birthday.

There is no mention in the first edition of birthday cakes, and very little reference to birthdays at all (only to birthday dinners in ancient Greece).  Never mind. Here is her recipe for yeast cake which I think is quite delectable and well suited as her birthday cake.

A NICE YEAST-CAKE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1-1/2 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 pint of milk, 1-1/2 tablespoonful of good yeast, 3 eggs, 3/4 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of white moist sugar, 2 oz. of candied peel.

Mode.—Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, and shake it round over a fire until the butter is melted, but do not allow the milk to get very hot. Put the flour into a basin, stir to it the milk and butter, the yeast, and eggs, which should be well beaten, and form the whole into a smooth dough. Let it stand in a warm place, covered with a cloth, to rise, and, when sufficiently risen, add the currants, sugar, and candied peel cut into thin slices. When all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, line 2 moderate-sized cake-tins with buttered paper, which should be about six inches higher than the tin; pour in the mixture, let it stand to rise again for another 1/2 hour, and then bake the cakes in a brisk oven for about 1-1/2 hour. If the tops of them become too brown, cover them with paper until they are done through. A few drops of essence of lemon, or a little grated nutmeg, may be added when the flavour is liked.

Time.—From 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hour. Average cost, 2s.

Sufficient to make 2 moderate-sized cakes.

Seasonable at any time.

If you want to have a sugar fit you can add almond icing; I prefer the cake plain.

ALMOND ICING FOR CAKES.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar allow 1 lb. of sweet almonds, the whites of 4 eggs, a little rose-water.

Mode.—Blanch the almonds, and pound them (a few at a time) in a mortar to a paste, adding a little rose-water to facilitate the operation. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a strong froth; mix them with the pounded almonds, stir in the sugar, and beat altogether. When the cake is sufficiently baked, lay on the almond icing, and put it into the oven to dry. Before laying this preparation on the cake, great care must be taken that it is nice and smooth, which is easily accomplished by well beating the mixture.

Feb 042017
 

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Today, the first Saturday in February, has been recognized for about 50 years (unofficially, of course) as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFBD).  The holiday was invented on a snowy winter day in the 1960s by Florence Rappaport in Rochester, New York. Florence had six children, but it was her youngest two, Ruth (now Kramer) and Joe Rappaport, who inspired her on a cold and snowy February morning. To entertain them, she declared it to be Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. She recalls, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and a family custom began. The exact year of the first ICFBD is unrecorded, but it is speculated to be 1966, when a huge blizzard hit Rochester in late January, dumping several feet of snow on Rochester and shutting down schools. When the siblings grew up, they held parties and introduced the custom to friends while in college, and it began to spread.

The holiday began to spread across the world thanks to Florence’s grandchildren, who have traveled extensively. Celebrations have been recorded in Nepal, Namibia, Germany, New Zealand, and Honduras. Some are small family celebrations and others are larger parties. The holiday has even been celebrated in China since 2003 and was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and local magazines in Hangzhou, China. Ice Cream for Breakfast Day enjoys particular popularity in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on ICFBD in 2013 in Hebrew and then in 2014 in English.

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I’ve always been interested in what people eat for breakfast in general (from the sidelines). For many years I’ve eaten whatever I want – curry, leftovers, soup, eggs . . . anything that I fancy at the time.  I find the idea of certain foods being designated as “breakfast foods” (particularly eggs or cereals) patently absurd, but millions of people throughout the world have fixed notions of what you can and cannot eat for breakfast.  Some eateries in the UK advertise “breakfast served all day” meaning that there is a fixed notion of what breakfast should consist of, despite the fact that you can eat it at any time of day.

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The word “breakfast” itself is relatively modern. The Old English word for dinner, “disner,” means to break a fast, and was originally the first meal eaten in the day until its meaning shifted in the mid-13th century. It was not until the 15th century that “breakfast” came into use in written English to describe a morning meal, literally meaning to “break” the “fast” of the prior night.

Having a meal to start the day before work has obvious benefits and is occasionally noted in ancient texts. Manual workers in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all ate something to begin the work day, but it was not a meal that differed in any substantive way from other meals – it was just regular food, including things such as bread, cheese, olives, dried fruit, legumes, and so forth (along with beer or wine).

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In the Middle Ages in Europe, breakfast was not usually considered a necessary and important meal, and was practically nonexistent during the earlier medieval period. Only two formal meals were eaten per day—one at mid-day and one in the evening. The exact times varied by period and region, but this two-meal system remained consistent throughout the Middle Ages. Many written accounts in the medieval period disparage eating in the morning. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica (1265–1274) that breakfast committed “praepropere,” or the sin of eating too soon, which was associated with gluttony. Breakfast in some times and places was solely granted to children, the elderly, the sick, and to working men. Eating breakfast, therefore, meant that one was poor, was a low-status farmer or laborer who truly needed the energy to sustain his morning’s labor, or was too weak to make it to the large, midday dinner, and was potentially shameful.

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By the 15th century breakfast became a more common practice for nobles and by the early 16th century, recorded expenses for breakfast became customary in household account books. The 16th -century introduction of caffeinated beverages into the European diet was part of the reason for allowing breakfast; it was believed that coffee and tea aided the body in “evacuation of superfluities” if they were drunk in the morning.

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To the best of my knowledge, the makings of the classic Full English breakfast date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My musings on this subject can be found here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/  and elsewhere on the blog. Meanwhile here’s a description I like of a traveler’s breakfast in England from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published in 1857 but reminiscing about the 1830s).  Tom is on his way from Berkshire to Rugby by coach, and makes a stop at an inn on the way in the morning:

And here comes breakfast.

“Twenty minutes here, gentlemen,” says the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.

Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not this a worthy reward for much endurance? There is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed) by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher.

And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands–kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all. The cold meats are removed to the sideboard–they were only put on for show and to give us an appetite. And now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous.

Two or three men in pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as indeed we all are.

“Tea or coffee, sir?” says head waiter, coming round to Tom.

“Coffee, please,” says Tom, with his mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee is a treat to him, tea is not.

Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us, is a cold beef man. He also eschews hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by the barmaid. Sportsman looks on approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.

Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum . . .

You can find the same basic elements in Mrs Beeton (1861).  She speaks of steaks, chops, eggs, kidneys, bacon etc. as breakfast food, but she does not single them out as uniquely fit for breakfast.  The elements of a hearty breakfast are proteins, bread of some sort, and tea or coffee (or small beer).

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The addition of breakfast cereals to the mix was a U.S. invention by the likes of C.W. Post and the Kellogg brothers http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kelloggs-corn-flakes/ following an almost universal trend for centuries of eating cereals (in the generic sense), that is, oats, rice, corn, etc. to start the day, simply because they were daily staples for many people throughout the world.

Nowadays I neither eat a meal you could label as “breakfast” nor do I eat foods you would call “breakfast foods” (at any time of the day). I eat what I want, when I want.  So, why not ice-cream for breakfast? – not just today, but any day.

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Nov 272016
 

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in the ecclesiastical year in many churches in the West, and the beginning of Christmastide in general. I like to follow the church traditions for Christmas and Easter, rather than succumb to secular chaos. I have discussed my general idea about “unpacking” Christmas in many places – e.g. here http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/unpacking-christmas/ I’ll give a quick synopsis now, and you can see how it works if you follow this blog to Christmas Day and beyond.

The simple way to think about the whole business is that Advent is not Christmas. Advent leads to Christmas in the same way that Lent leads to Easter. It is a time of preparation and anticipation. If you just plunge right into the whole pageant full bore, listening to carols or Christmas music blaring in stores, seeing images of Santa, angels, wise men, baby Jesus etc. etc. all jumbled together, having festive office and home parties, present shopping amidst frantic crowds, and all the rest of it, you are missing the whole contour of the season, and I am not surprised if you are exhausted by the time the 25th of December rolls around, and are glad when it’s over. If you take slow steps towards Christmas and prepare properly, the season unfolds slowly and joyously. You can savor each moment for what it is, and not try to cram it in all at once.

No one knows for sure when Advent was inaugurated as a church season. The earliest source asserting December 25th as the date of the birth of Jesus was Hippolytus of Rome (170–236), writing very early in the 3rd century, and basing the date on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox which he placed on March 25, and then added nine months. There is historical evidence that by the middle of the 4th century the Christian churches of the East celebrated the birth and baptism of Jesus on the same day, on January 6th while those in the West celebrated a Nativity feast on December 25th, and that by the last quarter of the 4th century, the calendars of both churches included both feasts. Advent was added some time in the 5th century, it appears.

There was some kind of preparatory season before Christmas as early as 480 but it was the Council of Tours of 567 that firmly fixed the idea by ordering monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas. Advent and Christmas were not, and still are not, as important in the Christian church as Easter, but you’d never know this given the secular hijacking of Christmas for commercial purposes. In fact, until the 19th century Christmas was a rather low-key affair, and it was Dickens more than anyone else who was responsible for raising its profile in the public eye. I’ll let the secular world do its thing whilst I continue to follow old church tradition.

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For me, the Advent wreath is a tangible way to keep things in perspective. The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th century, but the modern Advent wreath took shape in the 19th. Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor is credited as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath. Supposedly, during Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 24 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America.

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The Advent wreath (or crown) nowadays can take many forms. Mine has four colored candles in a ring representing the 4 Sundays of Advent, and a white candle in the middle representing Christ. You start on the first Sunday of Advent by lighting one candle, then each successive Sunday you light one more until the whole circle is lit. Then on Christmas Eve you light all four plus the white candle, and do so again on Christmas Day. In this way you have the physical feeling of the season growing in intensity, Sunday by Sunday, instead of feeling as if everything has crashed down on you all at once.

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I make my Advent crown by taking a plate, affixing the candles to it by melting wax to form their base (and making a mess in the process), then adding assorted bits and pieces – mostly sweets – as decoration.  At the start it’s very simple, but it grows as the season progresses. The crown is not a static decoration, but an ever-evolving one.

The colors of the candles vary in different church traditions. In Protestant churches three are usually purple or violet symbolizing penitence, and one is rose (or pink). Sometimes people (especially in the Anglican and Methodist communions) use blue rather than violet. I’m not very fussy about such things; I tend to go with what I can find. The important point is to have one that is rose or red. In the current Catholic tradition, all the candles are red, representing the dominant Christmas color. It is a matter of choice whether you have a white Christ candle in the middle or not.

In different traditions the candles have different names and meanings. When I was a pastor I used the sequence of Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy, with the rose candle signifying Peace. I’ll explore their separate meanings for me over the next three Sundays. For now let’s talk about HOPE. This is an easy one. I always light the first candle in the crown very early – in the darkness – on Sunday morning. I want the mental and physical image to be one of starkness and bareness with a single, frail light dispelling the gloom of night. That image, to me, symbolizes hope very clearly.

Music for the season is also important to me. Many churches just bang on with carols right from the start. But there are Advent hymns that are about hope and expectation, that in my mind should come first. This is a classic based on a 12th century Latin text, with a tune taken from Gregorian chant:

It gets slung into the general Christmas mix on CDs and such under the general rubric “Christmas music,” but deserves to be first, on its own, at the very beginning of Advent, then set aside.

Food preparation is a most important aspect of Advent for me. I already shared here my making of Christmas puddings last Sunday http://www.bookofdaystales.com/stir-up-sunday/ because that little nugget precedes Advent. But the bulk of Christmas food preparation takes place within Advent. There are a number of things that need time to mature. Mincemeat is one.

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The name “mincemeat” often confuses people because they don’t understand the history of the recipe. For centuries mincemeat consisted of chopped meat with fruit, as was common in Medieval cookery. Gradually the fruit and sweet component came to be predominant, and the meat element was reduced to fat of some sort – usually suet. A few diehards still add meat, as I was wont to do years ago. Mincemeat is a thoroughly English Christmas tradition that has gradually spread to other parts of the world primarily the British Diaspora. Here’s a 16th century recipe for meat pies from A Propre new booke of Cookery (1545):

Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it / suet or marrow a good quantitie / a lytell vynegre / pruynes / great reasons / and dates / take the fattest of the broath of powdred beefe. And if you will have paest royall / take butter and yolkes of egges & so to temper the floure to make the paest.  

This is clearly a savory dish with sweet and sour notes. But even in the 19th century Mrs Beeton still calls for beef in the recipe, even though her mincemeat is for dessert pies:

MINCEMEAT.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 lbs. of raisins, 3 lbs. of currants, 1-1/2 lb. of lean beef, 3 lbs. of beef suet, 2 lbs. of moist sugar, 2 oz. of citron, 2 oz. of candied lemon-peel, 2 oz. of candied orange-peel, 1 small nutmeg, 1 pottle of apples, the rind of 2 lemons, the juice of 1, 1/2 pint of brandy.

Mode.—Stone and cut the raisins once or twice across, but do not chop them; wash, dry, and pick the currants free from stalks and grit, and mince the beef and suet, taking care that the latter is chopped very fine; slice the citron and candied peel, grate the nutmeg, and pare, core, and mince the apples; mince the lemon-peel, strain the juice, and when all the ingredients are thus prepared, mix them well together, adding the brandy when the other things are well blended; press the whole into a jar, carefully exclude the air, and the mincemeat will be ready for use in a fortnight.

Average cost for this quantity, 8s.

Seasonable.—Make this about the beginning of December.

This is a pretty hefty amount – over 12 pounds of mincemeat without adding in the pottle of apples, whatever that means.  A pottle is half a gallon of liquid, but also a generic name for a container. Not important. The gist of the recipe is clear. She also gives the following which is far closer to modern recipes:

EXCELLENT MINCEMEAT.

INGREDIENTS.—3 large lemons, 3 large apples, 1 lb. of stoned raisins, 1 lb. of currants, 1 lb. of suet, 2 lbs. of moist sugar, 1 oz. of sliced candied citron, 1 oz. of sliced candied orange-peel, and the same quantity of lemon-peel, 1 teacupful of brandy, 2 tablespoonfuls of orange marmalade.

Mode.—Grate the rinds of the lemons; squeeze out the juice, strain it, and boil the remainder of the lemons until tender enough to pulp or chop very finely. Then add to this pulp the apples, which should be baked, and their skins and cores removed; put in the remaining ingredients one by one, and, as they are added, mix everything very thoroughly together. Put the mincemeat into a stone jar with a closely-fitting lid, and in a fortnight it will be ready for use.

Seasonable.—This should be made the first or second week in December.

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Given her penchant for plagiarism, I doubt Mrs Beeton tested either recipe, but she got them from someone who did. For me, making mincemeat is a fairly simple, haphazard affair. I start with a mix of raisins, sultanas, and currants, and add about half again of grated suet. Then I add some apple chopped fine and finish the fruit mix with what crystallized fruits and candied peel I have on hand. Finally, I moisten the mix with lemon juice and brandy, stir in a fair amount of allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste, and bottle it up until Christmas, leaving it to mature in the back of a kitchen cupboard. If need be I add brandy on Sundays when I “feed” my puddings. It’s ready to use in pies by Christmas Eve.

Nov 202016
 

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Today is Stir-Up Sunday. Stir-Up Sunday is an informal, and not particularly common, term in English communities for the last Sunday before Advent whether you go to church or not. It gets its name from the beginning of the Church of England collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people,” but it has become associated with the custom of making Christmas puddings on that day. Christmas puddings need to be matured for 6 weeks or longer to bring out all the rich flavors, so today is as good a day as any to make them, and then keep them for Christmas. It’s the first little signal for me that Christmas is coming. Over the next 5 weeks I am going to show you how I “unpack” Christmas so that it’s not all one big jumble that wears everyone out to the point that they are glad when it is over. Every week of the Advent season has a different focus, and I enjoy separating out the layers. Many years ago when I was training as an EMT I worked 12-hour shifts on an ambulance with a driver and a paramedic. First morning we stopped for breakfast at a diner and the driver ordered fried eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash browns. When it came, he dumped ketchup on everything, chopped it all up into tiny pieces, mixed everything around together, and ate the jumbled up mess with a spoon. To each his own, I guess. That breakfast is how I see modern Christmas – sleigh bells, angels, magi, baby Jesus, santa, puddings, turkey, stars, presents, and Mary all swirled around in a chaotic mess.  I don’t like it. I take Christmas one piece at a time and savor it before going on to the next piece.  It starts with Stir-Up Sunday.

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The term Stir-Up Sunday comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the 1549 (and later) Book of Common Prayer (a translation of the Roman Missal’s collect “Excita, quæsumus” used on the last Sunday before Advent):

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Excita, quaesumus, Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates: ut divini operis fructum propensius exsequentes, pietatis tuae remedia maiora percipiant: Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

In the Book of Common Prayer, this collect is listed for “The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Trinity” with a rubric specifying that this collect “shall always be used upon the Sunday next before Advent.” This reinforced the significance of this day as forming part of the preparation for the season of Advent. The rubric is necessary because the last Sunday before Advent does not always fall on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity: Trinity Sunday is a moveable feast and the Advent season is fixed, so the number of weeks in between varies from year to year.

Common folklore has it that the words of the collect reminded people that it was time to make  Christmas pudding so that it had time to mature. Certainly in Victorian times there were no signs that Christmas was on its way as there are now in many countries in the West. Nowadays, shop owners get a jump on Christmas sales by starting to decorate after Bonfire Night in England, and after Halloween in the U.S. (although traditionally the end of Thanksgiving used to signal the start of Christmas). I went to a big mall in Mantua yesterday to buy some winter clothes and was surprised to notice that the stores were already decked out with Christmas lights and decorations, which were also prominently on sale in the supermarkets. I was surprised because here, as in Argentina, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8th December) is the kick-off event for Christmas, and in neither place is Christmas the huge materialistic splurge it is elsewhere. No matter, I’m making my puddings today.

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I don’t remember when my mum made the puddings each year, but it was a week-end affair because she worked during the week and it’s a big task. She assembled all the ingredients, mixed them together, then we were all called to the kitchen to stir the pudding and make a wish. It’s heavy going. Pudding mix is very stiff and takes a strong arm to stir. Popular folklore has it that the tradition of everyone in the household stirring the pudding began because it is hard work that is best shared. I don’t believe this for a minute, but I have fond memories of doing it every year, and I passed on the tradition to my family. Now, sadly, I do it alone – but I do it.

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In a recent survey of English children 65% said that they had never experienced stirring a Christmas pudding as a family. That’s because fewer and fewer households make their own puddings. Several companies sell the readymade variety and some of them are not bad. They are not for me. I love the rich aromas that waft through the house as I steam the puddings, as well as all the rigmarole that goes into the preparation. In Argentina, China, and Italy I have struggled to get all the necessary ingredients. I really have to hunt for crystallized fruit, for example. Raisins and currants can be tough to find too. The recipe I am going to give you today is based on what I could dig up Friday and yesterday.

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You’ll find thousands of recipes for Christmas pudding. A lot of them try to make the pudding light. That’s not for me. I want a dense, dark mass redolent of spices and brandy that sinks like lead on top of a pile of Christmas goose and roast potatoes. That’s my idea of Christmas dinner. If need be you can add another leaden ball of Christmas cake at tea time. I eat pretty healthily and light throughout the year, so I see no reason not to have a spectacularly unhealthy meal on one day. Bring on the fat, sugar, and carbs.

I used to use Charles Francatelli’s recipe for Christmas pudding. He was Queen Victoria’s chef, and his was the only recipe I could find back in the 1980s that did not use breadcrumbs. Here’s Mrs Beeton’s recipe which is close to what my mum used:

CHRISTMAS PLUM-PUDDING.

(Very Good.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1-1/2 lb. of raisins, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of mixed peel, 3/4 lb. of bread crumbs, 3/4 lb. of suet, 8 eggs, 1 wineglassful of brandy.

 Mode.—Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas-day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.

Time.—5 or 6 hours the first time of boiling; 2 hours the day it is to be served.

Average cost, 4s.

Sufficient for a quart mould for 7 or 8 persons.

Seasonable on the 25th of December, and on various festive occasions till March. 

I prefer to use flour rather than breadcrumbs, and I add a splash of milk, plus a whole lot of spices. Modern recipes tend to be stingy with aromatics. They are the essence of Christmas for me – especially cloves and allspice. For a recipe this size I use about half a tablespoon of a mix – allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. I don’t worry too much about proportions.

I lost my book with Francatelli’s recipe in it when I left the US. Now I just do everything by feel, and use the ingredients I can get my hands on. Here’s what I made this morning. Suet should be the fat but I had to use butter because I could not find suet. I’ve used butter before. It’s not optimal: suet stands up to the long boiling better. Beggars can’t be chosers.

© Tío Juan’s Mantuan Christmas Pudding

Ingredients

100 gm currants
70 gm dried figs, chopped
70 gm crystallized peel
70 gm crystallized cherries
70 gm crystallized ginger
150 gm raisins
250 gm flour
250 gm brown sugar
250 gm butter, melted
4 eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup brandy

Instructions

Place all the fruit in a very big container. I used to use my stock pot. Mix it all well.

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Add the flour sugar and spices and mix again until the ingredients are evenly mixed.

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Beat together the milk, eggs, and brandy.

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Pour this mixture into the fruit and add the butter.

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Stir with all your might. This will take some effort and you must really work at it because you will keep finding pockets of dry ingredients for a while and it must all thoroughly mix. At this point invite the rest of the household to give the pot a stir and make a wish.

At one time it was common to add a small silver coin to the mix or (especially in Victorian times) a special silver charm. My granny used to add an old silver threepenny bit, but my mum was opposed to putting choking hazards in puddings. I don’t do it either. Your choice.

Let the mix sit all day. Then in the evening grease and line a pudding basin with a double layer of cheesecloth so that it laps over the sides. Fill the basin with pudding mix and cover the top with the overlapping cheesecloth. Place the basin in the top of a steamer and steam for no less than 6 hours. The longer the steaming, the better.

Remove the pudding basin from the steamer and let it cool a little. Pull the pudding out of the basin and let it cool completely. Put it in a large, heavy zip top bag. Dump in a generous amount of brandy, press out the air, and seal the bag. Store in a cupboard until Christmas Day, checking each week to see that there is still enough brandy in the bag to keep the pudding moist. It does drink up the brandy over time.

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On Christmas Day return the pudding to the basin and steam once more. I usually put the pudding on to steam after breakfast and let it steam another 6 to 8 hours.

This part is best if it is dark out at the end of dinner. Unmold the pudding piping hot on to a serving platter. Warm a little brandy in a metal ladle. Pour it over the pudding and set light to it. Then parade it in front of your guests in a darkened room. You have to be really quick.

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You can serve the pudding with an egg custard or brandy butter, but I prefer chilled whipped cream.

Aug 062016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Alfred Tennyson FRS, poet laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign, and still one of the most popular of British poets. He was one of the mainstays of my poetry lessons as a teen in Australia – bulwark of empire and British phlegm. A number of phrases from Tennyson’s work have become commonplaces of the English language, including “Nature, red in tooth and claw” ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all”, “Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die” . . . and so forth. However, I sympathize with W. H. Auden’s appraisal of Tennyson even if it is a bit harsh: “There was little about melancholia he didn’t know; there was little else that he did.”

Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. He was born into a middle-class line of Tennysons, but also had a noble and royal ancestry. He and two of his elder brothers were writing poetry in their teens and a collection of poems by all three was published locally when Alfred was only 17. Tennyson was a student at Louth Grammar School for four years (1816–1820) and then attended Scaitcliffe School, Englefield Green and King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827. In the spring of 1831, Tennyson’s father died, requiring him to leave Cambridge before taking his degree. He returned to his father’s rectory, where he was permitted to live for another six years and shared responsibility for his widowed mother and the family.

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Although Tennyson and his family were allowed to stay in the rectory for some time, they later moved to High Beach in Essex in 1837 until 1840. Tennyson then moved to London and lived for a time at Chapel House, Twickenham. In 1842, while living modestly in London, Tennyson published the two volume Poems, of which the first included works already published and the second was made up almost entirely of new poems, which met with immediate success and secured his name.

In 1850, after William Wordsworth’s death and Samuel Rogers’ refusal, Tennyson was appointed to the position of poet laureate. He held the position until his death in 1892, the longest tenure of any laureate before or since. Tennyson fulfilled the requirements of this position by turning out appropriate but often uninspired verse, such as a poem of greeting to Princess Alexandra of Denmark when she arrived in Britain to marry the future King Edward VII. In 1855, Tennyson produced one of his best-known works, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” tribute to the British cavalrymen involved in an ill-advised charge on 25 October 1854, during the Crimean War.

Tennyson initially declined a baronetcy in 1865 and 1868 (when tendered by Disraeli), finally accepting a peerage in 1883 at Gladstone’s earnest solicitation. In 1884 Victoria created him Baron Tennyson, of Aldworth in the County of Sussex and of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. Tennyson was the first person to be raised to a British peerage for his writing.

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Colonel George Edward Gouraud, Thomas Edison’s European agent, made sound recordings of Tennyson reading his own poetry, late in his life. They include recordings of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and excerpts from “The splendour falls” (from The Princess), “Come into the garden” (from Maud), “Ask me no more” “Ode on the death of the Duke of Wellington” and “Lancelot and Elaine.” Here’s a video of one of his recordings. The animation is awful, as well as being distracting, but if you look away you can get a sense of the man and his poetry in vivo.

Tennyson continued writing into his eighties. He died on 6 October 1892 at Aldworth, aged 83. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Though Prince Albert was largely responsible for Tennyson’s appointment as laureate, Queen Victoria became an ardent admirer of Tennyson’s work, writing in her diary that she was “much soothed & pleased” by reading “In Memoriam A.H.H.” after Albert’s death. The two met twice, first in April 1862, when Victoria wrote in her diary, “very peculiar looking, tall, dark, with a fine head, long black flowing hair & a beard, oddly dressed, but there is no affectation about him.” Tennyson met her a second time nearly two decades later, and at that point the Queen told him what a comfort “In Memoriam A.H.H.” had been.

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With Tennyson being the quintessential Victorian it is no surprise that Isabella Beeton mentions him extravagantly:

But Tennyson has ventured beyond dates, and quinces, and syrups, which may be thought easy to be brought in by a poet. In his idyl of “Audley Court” he gives a most appetizing description of a pasty at a pic-nic:—

“There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound;
Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
And, half cut down, a pasty costly made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret, lay
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and injellied.”

We gladly quote passages like these, to show how eating and drinking may be surrounded with poetical associations, and how man, using his privilege to turn any and every repast into a “feast of reason,” with a warm and plentiful “flow of soul,” may really count it as not the least of his legitimate prides, that he is “a dining animal.”

Tennyson’s poem leads us effortlessly to aspics (Imbedded and injellied), one of the great bulwarks of Victorian fine dining. First I give you Beeton’s basic recipe, which is perfectly serviceable to this day, although a considerable effort.

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Aspic, or Ornamental Savoury Jelly.

  1. INGREDIENTS. — 4 lbs. of knuckle of veal, 1 cow-heel, 3 or 4 slices of ham, any poultry trimmings, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 1 faggot of savoury herbs, 1 glass of sherry, 3 quarts of water; seasoning to taste of salt and whole white pepper; 3 eggs.

Mode. — Lay the ham on the bottom of a stewpan, cut up the veal and cow-heel into small pieces, and lay them on the ham; add the poultry trimmings, vegetables, herbs, sherry, and water, and let the whole simmer very gently for 4 hours, carefully taking away all scum that may rise to the surface; strain through a fine sieve, and pour into an earthen pan to get cold. Have ready a clean stewpan, put in the jelly, and be particular to leave the sediment behind, or it will not be clear. Add the whites of 3 eggs, with salt and pepper, to clarify; keep stirring over the fire, till the whole becomes very white; then draw it to the side, and let it stand till clear. When this is the case, strain it through a cloth or jelly-bag, and use it for moulding poultry, etc. Tarragon vinegar may be added to give an additional flavour.

Time. — Altogether 4–1/2 hours. Average cost for this quantity, 4s.

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Nowadays, the ready availability of commercial gelatin makes this laborious process unnecessary, but I have reproduced it from time to time because the flavor is unbeatable. Poultry or veal in aspic was a mainstay of the Victorian sideboard, as were luscious fruit jellies. They’re not popular any more, and the few times I have made them they’ve not been winners with my guests. They are simplicity itself, however, and worth experimenting with once in a while. I use a plain metal bowl, grease it lightly with clear oil, then put some decorative herbs in the bottom, pack it with cooked chicken, then pour in a good aspic to cover. It needs to chill in the refrigerator overnight. Then, when you are ready to serve, dip the bowl briefly in hot water, then place a plate over the bowl, invert it and give it a few sharp taps to unmold the aspic. With any luck it will come out clean. Serve the aspic sliced on a bed of lettuce or mixed greens.

May 312016
 

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Today is World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), which is observed around the world , although I have to say that I don’t see much hooplah about it from year to year. It is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption around the globe. The day is further intended to draw attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to negative health effects, which currently lead to nearly 6 million deaths each year worldwide, including 600,000 of which are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. The member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) created World No Tobacco Day in 1987. In the past twenty years, the day has been met with both enthusiasm and resistance around the globe from governments, public health organizations, smokers, growers, and the tobacco industry.

I think the negative impact of smoking is well known and does not need to be beaten on here. Smokers know the facts. What I want to do is get personal about it. If you want to quit, how do you go about it? Here I think everyone is different. I’m not going to give advice, but I am going to admit that currently I am a smoker and this year I intend to quit. So let me take you on a personal journey.

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When I lived in England I began smoking as a teenager even though I was a long-distance runner. I did not smoke a lot because I was in school and smoking was not allowed. But my father was a heavy smoker and by the time I was 17 he did not show any disapproval.  Nor did my mother who smoked off and on. Most of my friends did not smoke, but in the 1960s it was a socially acceptable habit. I smoked about a pack a week until I left school at 19, and went on to university.

At Oxford I became a heavy smoker. I had very little time when I had to be somewhere, and I used smoking as a way to take a break from my studies (which I did very often because I found the subject matter dull). The thing is that I was not physically addicted to nicotine, so much as I was psychologically attached to the act of smoking. It was a way to take a break and to fill time. In those days railway carriages in England were divided into smoking and non-smoking. I always traveled in the non-smoking compartments because I did not like the atmosphere (literally) in the smoking ones, and could go hours at a stretch without the craving for a cigarette.

After Oxford I started teaching, so I was back to school restrictions. But I could smoke in the staffroom, and did. It was still a way of taking a break. Then, into my second year of teaching, the government drastically raised the tax on cigarettes so I decided to quit. I did it cold turkey – made a decision to stop smoking one day, and did. The first 24 hours were tough, but after that I was free of tobacco.   Sort of. I stayed smoke free for about a year without cravings. It took a while to adjust to finding other things to do at times when I used to smoke, but I managed. The hardest was not finishing a meal with a cigarette.

When I moved to the U.S. in 1975 I was smoke free, but I moved to North Carolina, one of the centers of tobacco growing and cigarette production in the U.S. Taxes on tobacco were very low, so that a carton of 10 packs (200 cigarettes) was around $3.50. That’s less than a third of what ONE pack costs in New York these days. I was not tempted, but my wife was a heavy smoker, as were all of our friends. At university it was acceptable to smoke everywhere including the classrooms and even the library. Still . . . I did not take up smoking again.  However I did have one or two cigarettes after a meal if I were out with friends. That stopped when I moved to New York and took up residence as a professor at my university. I never smoked again until about 5 years ago.

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When I retired and moved to Argentina I was surrounded by smokers. This reminds me that smoking is very much a cultural thing. In New York in my circles, especially the university, very few people smoked. In the early 1980s laws were passed banning smoking in public buildings, and there was a general negative public attitude towards the habit. Curiously, the main smokers were the female dance students who were under great pressure to be very thin. They could be put on weight probation and even expelled from the conservatory if they gained too much weight. Smoking for them was a distraction from eating. I was not tempted, and was something of a martinet against the few faculty who chain smoked, against one in particular in my department who flouted the law and smoked in the lecture halls. Students did not complain, but I did – loudly – to him personally, and to our dean.

All that changed in Argentina. There everyone smokes. Cigarettes are cheap and people smoke wherever and whenever they want – in offices, on the streets, in bars – everywhere, all the time. At first I was not tempted, but I had a lot of time on my hands, lived alone as a widower, and occasionally wanted a distraction. So I took to smoking Cuban cigars. At first this was an act of defiance because Cuban cigars are illegal in the U.S., but plentiful in Argentina, and cheap. I smoked maybe one per week for a couple of years. But my pals all smoked cigarettes, so I drifted in that direction. Decent cigarettes ran about 6 pesos for 20 (about US$1), and by the time I left for China I was up to a pack a day.

China was the same as Argentina. People smoked everywhere and often, and cigarettes were very cheap. I couldn’t smoke where I taught and I had a busy schedule for over a year. But I smoked at home. This meant that I was smoking less, but still at it. It was the same issue as when I was a young man. I could go hours without smoking if I had to, without craving, but picked up as soon as I was free. The same is true today.

In my part of Italy there’s a rather laissez-faire attitude towards smoking. It’s banned in public buildings, but plenty of people smoke – including many of my friends – and no one makes a big deal of it. I can’t smoke at work and I’ve stopped from time to time without trouble. I’m still not hooked physically. I took a 23 hour trip by air from Kunming to Verona and was able to avoid smoking without much effort. When I am smoking these days it’s no more than 5 or 6 per day – during slack times.

In consequence I’ve decided to take today as the push I need to quit completely. It’s going to be a challenge because I’ve finished teaching for the school year, and have time on my hands. But I’m still not really physically addicted. It’s psychological. The trick is making sure that I have other things to do that will distract me from the desire to fiddle around and waste time. I also need to keep motivating myself with personal pep talks about why it is not a good idea to smoke. Health benefits are obviously important, but the fact is that I am very healthy, so I don’t feel much urgency in that direction. A greater motivating factor is the sense of freedom I will feel when I am not tied to a pack in my pocket. Personal freedom is supremely important to my happiness.  Being beholden to other people or things limits me in key ways. I have no debt, my son is grown and independent, my wife died 9 years ago, I have money to live on without working, I don’t drink . . . and so on. Smoking is perhaps the last barrier to my independence and it has to go.

I don’t need or want lectures and pep talks from others to do this. I’ll happily encourage others in this endeavor if they ask for it; not if they don’t. Everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all method of quitting any habit you are tied to.  If you choose today to quit smoking, I wish you well.

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Cooking is a key for me in doing something calming that is other than smoking. I enjoy the act of cooking as much, if not more, than eating. It’s always been a passion. When I am cooking I have no interest in smoking, so I may cook a lot over the next few days. As it happens, today is National Macaroon Day in the U.S. so that seems like a suitable recipe. I like coconut macaroons.

Macaroons come in many varieties worldwide. The history and development of macaroons is as filled with nonsense and speculation as calendar customs in Europe. The name of the cake comes from the Italian maccarone or maccherone (plural maccheroni – i.e. macaroni).  How a cake and a shape of pasta came to have the same name is a mystery that has philologists arguing to this day. The root word may be ammaccare, “to crush.”

Culinary historians claim that macaroons can be traced to an Italian monastery of the 9th century. Some monks from this monastery went to France in 1533, joined by the pastry chefs of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II. Later, two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, came to Nancy seeking asylum during the French Revolution. The two women paid for their housing by baking and selling macaroon cookies, and thus became known as the “Macaroon Sisters.” Take this for what it is worth – i.e. not much.

Recipes for macaroons (also spelled “mackaroon,” “maccaroon” and “mackaroom”) appear in recipe books as early as 1725 (Robert Smith’s Court Cookery, or the Complete English Cook), and use egg whites and almond paste. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management includes a typical traditional recipe. Over time, coconut was added to the ground almonds and, in certain recipes, replaced them. Potato starch is also sometimes included in the recipe, to give the macaroons more body.

Macaroons made from desiccated coconut instead of almond are most commonly found in the United Kingdom (in addition to almond macaroons), Australia, the United States, Mauritius, The Netherlands (Kokosmakronen), Germany, Hungary (kókuszcsók), and Uruguay. Coconut macaroons may include almond slivers, or occasionally pecans, cashews or other nuts. In Australia, a dollop of raspberry jam or glacé cherries are often concealed in the centre of the macaroon. Coconut macaroons are often topped with a glace cherry, and/or dipped in chocolate (usually milk chocolate).

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Here’s Mrs Beeton. Her recipe is still serviceable and the concluding remark still valid – buying macaroons is simpler than making them, and often as tasty. If you want to follow this recipe use caster sugar and bake the macaroons on rice paper.

MACAROONS

INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of sweet almonds, 1/2 lb. of sifted loaf sugar, the whites of 3 eggs, wafer-paper.

Mode.—Blanch, skin, and dry the almonds, and pound them well with a little orange-flower water or plain water; then add to them the sifted sugar and the whites of the eggs, which should be beaten to a stiff froth, and mix all the ingredients well together. When the paste looks soft, drop it at equal distances from a biscuit-syringe on to sheets of wafer-paper; put a strip of almond on the top of each; strew some sugar over, and bake the macaroons in rather a slow oven, of a light brown colour when hard and set, they are done, and must not be allowed to get very brown, as that would spoil their appearance. If the cakes, when baked, appear heavy, add a little more white of egg, but let this always be well whisked before it is added to the other ingredients. We have given a recipe for making these cakes, but we think it almost or quite as economical to purchase such articles as these at a good confectioner’s.

Time.—From 15 to 20 minutes, in a slow oven.

Average cost, 1s. 8d. per lb.

Apr 052016
 

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Today is the birthday (1827) of Joseph Lister, British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Lister successfully introduced carbolic acid (now known as phenol) to sterilize surgical instruments and to clean wounds, which led to a reduction in post-operative infections and made surgery safer for patients. Lister came from a prosperous Quaker home in West Ham, Essex, England, a son of Joseph Jackson Lister, a pioneer of achromatic object lenses for the compound microscope.

He attended University College, London, one of only a few institutions which accepted Quakers at that time. He initially studied botany and obtained a bachelor of Arts degree in 1847. Then he registered as a medical student and subsequently entered the Royal College of Surgeons at the age of 26. In 1854, Lister became both first assistant to and friend of surgeon James Syme at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland.

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In 1867, Lister championed the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, such that it became the first widely used antiseptic in surgery. He first suspected it would prove an adequate disinfectant because it was used to ease the stench from fields irrigated with sewage waste. He presumed it was safe because fields treated with carbolic acid produced no apparent ill-effects on the livestock that later grazed upon them. He subsequently left the Quakers, joined the Scottish Episcopal Church, and eventually married Syme’s daughter, Agnes. On their honeymoon, they spent 3 months visiting leading medical institutes (hospitals and universities) in France and Germany. By this time, Agnes was enamored of medical research and was Lister’s partner in the laboratory for the rest of her life.

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Until Lister’s studies of surgery, most people believed that chemical damage from exposure to bad air was responsible for infections in wounds. Hospital wards were occasionally aired out at midday as a precaution against the spread of infection via the air, but facilities for washing hands or a patient’s wounds were not available. A surgeon was not required to wash his hands before seeing a patient because such practices were not considered necessary to avoid infection. Despite the work of Ignaz Semmelweis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., hospitals practiced surgery under unsanitary conditions. Surgeons of the time referred to the “good old surgical stink” and took pride in the accumulated stains on their unwashed operating gowns as a display of their experience.

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While he was a professor of surgery at the University of Glasgow, Lister became aware of a paper published by the French chemist, Louis Pasteur, showing that fermentation and food spoilage could occur under anaerobic conditions if micro-organisms were present. Pasteur suggested three methods to eliminate the micro-organisms responsible: filtration, exposure to heat, or exposure to chemical solutions. Lister confirmed Pasteur’s conclusions with his own experiments and decided to use his findings to develop “antiseptic” techniques for wounds. As the first two methods suggested by Pasteur were inappropriate for the treatment of human tissue, Lister experimented with the third and began to test the efficacy of carbolic acid when applied directly to wounds.

Lister began by testing the results of spraying instruments, surgical incisions, and dressings with a solution of carbolic acid, and found that the solution swabbed on wounds remarkably reduced the incidence of gangrene. In August 1865, he applied a piece of lint dipped in carbolic acid solution on to the wound of a seven-year-old boy at Glasgow Infirmary, who had sustained a compound fracture after a cart wheel had passed over his leg. After four days, he renewed the pad and discovered that no infection had developed, and after a total of six weeks he was amazed to discover that the boy’s bones had fused back together, without the danger of suppuration. He subsequently published his results in The Lancet in a series of 6 articles, running from March to July 1867.

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He instructed surgeons under his responsibility to wear clean gloves and wash their hands before and after operations with 5% carbolic acid solutions. Instruments were also washed in the same solution and assistants sprayed the solution in the operating theater. One of his additional suggestions was to stop using porous natural materials in manufacturing the handles of medical instruments.

Lister left Glasgow in 1869, returning to Edinburgh as successor to Syme as Professor of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh and continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis. Amongst those he worked with there, who helped promulgate his work, was the senior apothecary and later MD, Dr Alexander Gunn. Lister’s fame had spread by then, and audiences of 400 often came to hear him lecture. As the “germ theory of disease” became more widely accepted, it was realized that infection could be better avoided by preventing bacteria from getting into wounds in the first place. This led to the rise of sterile surgery. On the centenary of his death, in 2012, Lister was considered by most in the medical field as “the father of modern surgery”.

Lister retired from practice after his wife, who had long helped him in research, died in 1893 in Italy, during one of the few holidays they allowed themselves. Studying and writing lost appeal for him and he sank into religious melancholy. Despite suffering a stroke, he still came into the public light from time to time. On 24 August 1902 Edward VII came down with appendicitis two days before his scheduled coronation. Like all internal surgery at the time, the appendectomy needed by the King still posed an extremely high risk of death by post-operational infection, and surgeons did not dare operate without consulting Britain’s leading surgical authority. Lister obligingly advised them in the latest antiseptic surgical methods (which they followed to the letter), and the King survived, later telling Lister, “I know that if it had not been for you and your work, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

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Lister died on 10 February 1912 at his country home in Walmer, Kent at the age of 84. After a funeral service at Westminster Abbey, he was buried at West Hampstead Cemetery, London in a plot to the south-east of central chapel.

Lister was a champion of Pasteur’s germ theory which was highly controversial at the time, and Lister’s work dramatically improved its acceptance. His ideas were monumentally helpful not only in hospitals, but also in kitchens in the days before refrigeration. Isabella Beeton writes of the antiseptic qualities, not especially scientifically, of wood smoke, salt, and acids, in her recipes for preserving meats. Nowadays we are fully aware of the need for cleanliness and disinfectants in the kitchen especially in the prevention of cross contamination of foods via utensils and work surfaces. The kitchen can be just as deadly a place as the operating room if proper precautions are not observed – not to mention places where eggs, meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables are prepared and packaged commercially.

Here’s an example from Beeton:

CITRON.—The fruit of the citron-tree (Citrus medica) is acidulous, antiseptic, and antiscorbutic: it excites the appetite, and stops vomiting, and, like lemon-juice, has been greatly extolled in chronic rheumatism, gout, and scurvy. Mixed with cordials, it is used as an antidote to the machineel poison. The candied peel is prepared in the same manner as orange or lemon-peel; that is to say, the peel is boiled in water until quite soft, and then suspended in concentrated syrup (in the cold), after which it is either dried in a current of warm air, or in a stove, at a heat not exceeding 120° Fahrenheit. The syrup must be kept fully saturated with sugar by reboiling it once or twice during the process.

Here’s her recipe for a pudding sauce that was certainly pretty antiseptic by her lights – containing alcohol, sugar, and citron:

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WINE SAUCE FOR PUDDINGS.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 pint of sherry, 1/4 pint of water, the yolks of 6 eggs, 2 oz. of pounded sugar, 1/2 teaspoonful of minced lemon-peel, a few pieces of candied citron cut thin.

 Mode.—Separate the yolks from the whites of 5 eggs; beat them, and put them into a very clean saucepan (if at hand, a lined one is best); add all the other ingredients, place them over a sharp fire, and keep stirring until the sauce begins to thicken; then take it off and serve. If it is allowed to boil, it will be spoiled, as it will immediately curdle.

Time.—To be stirred over the fire 3 or 4 minutes; but it must not boil.

Average cost, 2s.

Sufficient for a large pudding; allow half this quantity for a moderate-sized one.