Mar 172017
 

Today is the birthday (1880) and also, possibly, the date of the death (1912) of Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates, an English army officer, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition led by Scott. I gave a reasonably detailed accounting of the Terra Nova Expedition here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/ — so there’s no need to repeat it.  The members of the Expedition died on their return journey due to an unfortunate combination of errors in judgment and bad luck. There’s no point in rehashing all the details.  No one can doubt the courage of all the men who made it to the pole, and the death of Oates has always stood out in my memory: rightly so. Scott ensured his immortality via his journal.

Oates was born in Putney, London, the son of William and Caroline Oates. His family inherited old money, having had land at Gestingthorpe, Essex, for centuries. His father moved the family there when his children were small after succeeding to the Manor of Over Hall, Gestingthorpe. Oates lived in Putney from 1885–91, from the ages of 5 to 11 at 263 Upper Richmond Road. He was one of the first pupils to attend the prep Willington School around the corner in Colinette Road. He was further educated at Eton College, which he left after less than two years owing to ill health. He then attended an army “crammer” in Eastbourne. His father died of typhoid fever in Madeira in 1896 when Oates was aged 16.

In 1898, Oates was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He saw military service during the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, having been transferred to that regiment as a second lieutenant in May 1900. He took part in operations in the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and Cape Colony. In March 1901, he suffered a gunshot wound to his left thigh which shattered his leg and, when it healed, left it an inch shorter than his right leg. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his actions and was brought to public attention at the time.

He was promoted to lieutenant on 8 February 1902, and left Cape Town for England in June that year, after peace had been signed in South Africa the previous month. He was mentioned in despatches by Lord Kitchener in his final despatch dated 23 June 1902. He was promoted to captain in 1906. He later served in Ireland, Egypt, and India. He was often referred to by the nickname “Titus Oates,” after the notorious perjurer – English humor !! In the history books that I read as a boy he was always called “Titus” and I am sure that part of it had to do with the fact that he was legendarily strong and fit.

In 1910, he applied to join Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, and was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses and, to a lesser extent, his ability to make a financial contribution of £1,000 (over £50,000 in modern currency) towards the expedition. Nicknamed “the soldier” by his fellow expedition members, his role was to look after the nineteen ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole.

Oates disagreed with Scott many times on issues of management of the expedition. ‘Their natures jarred on one another,’ a fellow expedition member recalled. When he first saw the ponies that Scott had brought on the expedition, Oates was horrified at the £5 animals, which he said were too old for the job and ‘a wretched load of crocks.’ He later said: ‘Scott’s ignorance about marching with animals is colossal.’ He also wrote in his diary “Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition….He [Scott] is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere…” However, he also wrote that his harsh words were often a product of the hard conditions. Scott, less harshly, called Oates “the cheery old pessimist” and wrote “The Soldier takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.

Captain Scott, Captain Oates and 14 other members of the expedition set off from their Cape Evans base camp for the South Pole on 1 November 1911. At various pre-determined latitude points during the 895-mile (1,440 km) journey, the support members of the expedition were sent back by Scott in teams until on 4 January 1912, at latitude 87° 32′ S, only the five-man polar party of Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, Edgar Evans and Oates remained to walk the last 167 miles (269 km) to the Pole. On 18 January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, they finally reached the Pole only to discover a tent that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had left behind at their Polheim camp after beating them in the race to be first to the Pole. Inside the tent was a note from Amundsen informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.

Scott’s party faced extremely difficult conditions on the return journey, mainly due to the exceptionally adverse weather, poor food supply, injuries sustained from falls, and the effects of scurvy and frostbite, all slowing their progress. On 17 February 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore glacier, Edgar Evans died, suspected by his companions to be the result of a blow to his head suffered during a fall into a crevasse a few days earlier. Oates’s feet had become severely frostbitten and it has been suggested (but never evidenced) that his war wound had re-opened due to the effects of scurvy. He was certainly weakening faster than the others. In his diary entry of 5th March, Scott wrote “Oates’ feet are in a wretched condition… The poor soldier is very nearly done.”

Oates’ slower progress, coupled with the unwillingness of his three remaining companions to leave him, was causing the party to fall behind schedule. With an average of 65 miles (105 km) between the pre-laid food depots and only a week’s worth of food and fuel provided by each depot, they needed to maintain a march of over 9 miles (14 km) a day to have full rations for the final 400 miles (640 km) of their return journey across the Ross Ice Shelf. However, 9 miles (14 km) was about their best progress any day and this had lately reduced to sometimes only 3 miles (4.8 km) a day due to Oates’ worsening condition. On 15 March, Oates told his companions that he could not go on and proposed that they leave him in his sleeping-bag, which they refused to do. He managed a few more miles that day but his condition worsened that night.

Waking on the morning of 16th March, Oates walked out of the tent into a blizzard, and −40 °F (−40 °C) temperatures, to his death. Scott wrote in his diary, “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.” Oates’ sacrifice, however, made no difference to the eventual outcome.

Scott, Wilson, and Bowers continued onwards for a further 20 miles (32 km) towards the ‘One Ton’ food depot that could save them but were halted at latitude 79°40’S by a fierce blizzard on 20th March. Trapped in their tent by the weather and too weak, cold and malnourished to continue, they eventually died nine days later, only eleven miles short of their objective. Their frozen bodies were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912. Oates’s body was never found. Near where he was presumed to have died, the search party erected a cairn and cross bearing the inscription; “Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L. E. G. Oates, of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912, returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard, to try and save his comrades, beset by hardships.” According to Scott’s diary, before Oates exited the tent and walked to his death, he uttered the words “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

We cannot be sure if Oates survived long enough to actually die on his birthday or succumbed the day before. If he died on his birthday he is in good company.  Shakespeare is often said to have been born and died on the same day (ironically, St George’s Day), but his date of birth is only presumed from his baptismal date. We have a similar problem with the Renaissance painter Raphael. Much more assured cases are Ingrid Bergman, Merle Haggard, Betty Friedan, and FDR. I’m not sure how I feel about dying on my birthday. I think it would be fine as long as I was having a party, surrounded by friends, and well into my 90s.

I think it’s a bit morbid to give a recipe for polar survival food on this date given that malnourishment was one of the causes of the party’s slow progress and ultimate death. Besides, I’ve given quite a few already. Instead let’s be a bit more cheery and think about traditional Essex recipes, the county where the Oates family had their hereditary seat. Many Essex recipes focus on oysters and seafood because of the county’s coastline and (former) abundant fisheries. But Gestingthorpe is well inland in farm country, so a farm recipe is in order.  Essex traditional food is not exactly bright with well-known favorites, but there are a few of note.  Essex meat layer pudding looks like a winner.  I will confess that I have not tried it yet, but I will have a go over the weekend and update the post with photos if I have any success. Right now the problem is that suet is impossible to find in Mantua, and I don’t have a pudding basin. The unusual thing about this pudding is that the suet pastry is layered into it, rather than surrounding the pudding.   Judging from the various recipes I’ve read, you can use whatever meat suits.  A mix of pork, veal, and chicken (or 2 out of the 3) is quite common.  This recipe is my version of one taken from this site — https://www.essextouristguide.co.uk/information/in-the-news/articleid/69/favourite-essex-recipes  It looks trustworthy, but I’ve modified it a bit based on experience with steamed puddings.  You can use ground or chopped meat as you prefer.

Essex Meat Layer Pudding

Ingredients

Pastry:

6 oz. flour
¼ tsp salt
3 oz. shredded suet
¼ cup cold water (approx)

Filling:

1 tbsp butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. minced veal (or chicken)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp celery salt
1 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks,
2 tbsp heavy cream
salt and pepper

Instructions

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix in the suet. Add just enough water to make a stiff but pliable dough. Wrap in foil or greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator whilst you make the filling.

For the filling, sauté the onions in butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden. Add the meats, herbs, seasonings and flour. Continue to sauté for 5 minutes stirring well, then remove the pan from heat. Beat together the egg yolks and cream and add them to the meat mixture. Sauté over low heat for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Butter a 2½ pint pudding basin, line it with foil,  greaseproof paper, or (best) cheesecloth. Butter this lining as well.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼-inch. Cut a small circle to fit the bottom of the basin and put it in place. Spoon on a layer of meat mixture (about 1½-inches deep) then add another circle of dough to fit. (As you proceed you will need to push the scraps of dough together and roll them out again).  Add another layer of meat. Continue until the filling and dough have been used up, finishing with layer of dough. There should be 3 layers of meat mixture. There should be some room at the top of the basin so that the dough can expand while steaming.

Cover the top of the basin with greaseproof paper or pull up the cheesecloth around the top. Then seal the top with foil.  Steam for about 4 hours. [I am a little iffy about this length of time. I will know better when I try it. 3 hours ought to be enough, but 4 hours won’t hurt, especially if you use chopped rather than ground meat.]

Serves 4

Oct 022016
 

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Today is the birthday (1890) of Julius Henry Marx known professionally and ubiquitously as Groucho. His absolutely unmistakable appearance, carried over from his days in vaudeville, included quirks such as an exaggerated stooped posture, glasses, cigar, and a thick, black greasepaint mustache and eyebrows. These exaggerated features resulted in the creation of one of the world’s most recognizable novelty disguises, known as “Groucho glasses”: a one-piece mask consisting of horn-rimmed glasses, large plastic nose, bushy eyebrows and mustache.

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I don’t think there’s any great sense in rehashing Groucho’s career. If you don’t know him, a simple biography won’t help. If you do know him you don’t need me telling you about him. Let’s start instead with a compilation of some of his famous lines.

Groucho’s life before Hollywood is the part most fans don’t know. He was born in a room above a butcher’s shop on East 78th Street in New York City between Lexington and 3rd” and grew up on East 93rd Street off Lexington Avenue in a neighborhood now known as Carnegie Hill on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the time the area was dominated by European immigrants, mostly artisans.

This 1915 photo of the Marx brothers with their parents in New York City is extraordinary because the family resemblance of the brothers, masked by the vaudevillesque makeup on film, is so evident. From left to right they are, Groucho, Gummo, Minnie (mother), Zeppo, Frenchie (father), Chico, and Harpo.

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Groucho’s family was Jewish. Groucho’s mother was Miene “Minnie” Schoenberg, whose family came from Dornum in northern Germany when she was 16 years old. His father was Simon “Sam” Marx, who changed his name from Marrix, and was called “Frenchie” by his sons throughout his life because he and his family came from Alsace in France. Minnie’s brother was Al Schoenberg, who shortened his name to Al Shean when he went into show business as half of Gallagher and Shean, a noted vaudeville act of the early 20th century. According to Groucho, when Shean visited he would throw the local street waifs a few coins so that when he knocked at the door he would be surrounded by adoring fans. Groucho and his brothers respected his opinions and asked him on several occasions to write some material for them.

Minnie Marx did not have an entertainment industry career but had intense ambition for her sons to go on the stage like their uncle. While pushing her eldest son Leonard (Chico Marx) in piano lessons she found that Julius/Groucho had a pleasant treble voice and the ability to remain on key. Groucho’s early career goal was to become a doctor, but the family’s need for income forced him out of school at the age of twelve. By that time young Groucho had become a voracious reader, particularly fond of Horatio Alger. Groucho continued to overcome his lack of formal education by becoming very well read.

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After a few stabs at entry-level office work and jobs suitable for adolescents, Groucho started on the stage as a boy singer with the Gene Leroy Trio, debuting at the Ramona Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI on July 16, 1905. Marx reputedly claimed that he was “hopelessly average” as a vaudevillian. By 1909 Minnie Marx had assembled her sons into a forgettable-quality vaudeville singing group billed as “The Four Nightingales.” The brothers Julius, Milton (Gummo Marx) and Arthur (originally Adolph, from 1911 Harpo Marx) and another boy singer, Lou Levy, traveled the U.S. vaudeville circuits to little acclaim. After exhausting their prospects in the East the family moved to La Grange, Illinois, to play the Midwest.

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After a particularly dispiriting performance in Nacogdoches, Texas, Julius, Milton, and Arthur began cracking jokes onstage for their own amusement. Much to their surprise, the audience liked them better as comedians than as singers. They modified the then-popular Gus Edwards comedy skit “School Days” and renamed it “Fun In Hi Skule”(reminds me of Molesworth). The Marx Brothers performed variations on this routine for the next seven years.

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For a time in vaudeville all the brothers performed using ethnic accents. Leonard, the oldest, developed the Italian accent he used as Chico Marx to convince some roving bullies that he was Italian, not Jewish. Arthur, the next oldest, put on a curly red wig and became “Patsy Brannigan”, a stereotypical Irish character. His discomfort speaking on stage led to his uncle Al Shean’s suggestion that he stop speaking altogether and play the role in mime. Groucho’s character from “Fun In Hi Skule” was an ethnic German, so he played him with a German accent. After the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, public anti-German sentiment was widespread, and Groucho’s German character was booed, so he quickly dropped the accent and developed the fast-talking wise-guy character that became his trademark.

Consequently the Marx Brothers became the biggest comedic stars of the Palace Theatre in New York City, which billed itself as the “Valhalla of Vaudeville.” Chico’s deal-making skills resulted in three hit plays on Broadway. No comedy routine had ever so captured the Broadway circuit. All of this predated their Hollywood career. By the time the Marx Brothers made their first movie, they were major stars with sharply honed skills. That’s why at the heart of their movies they are still vaudevillians. Here’s the crowded cabin scene from A Night at the Opera. Pure vaudeville.

After his movie career Groucho was relaunched to new stardom on You Bet Your Life, now with a genuine moustache but still wisecracking – often ad-lib. Here’s a reel of outtakes that were too racy to air in the 1950s.

Groucho’s quotes are famous, so there is no need to list them in quantity. Here are some that are not especially wisecracks.

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

A woman is an occasional pleasure but a cigar is always a smoke.

My favorite poem is the one that starts ‘Thirty days hath September’ because it actually tells you something.

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We know a great deal about Groucho’s eating preferences. He loved chocolate, for example, and when on a strict diet towards the end of his life he limited himself to two only which he ate first thing, remarking, “Well, I’ve had my chocolates. Now there’s nothing to do but wait for tomorrow.” Groucho had a lifelong love of clam chowder. In his youth, his Aunt Hannah would cook up batches of the soup for the Marx family using the same pot the family used to do their laundry. Groucho claimed the dual-purpose pot enhanced both the wash and the flavor of the chowder. “I wish I could remember what it tasted like,” Groucho later recalled when he was in his 80s.

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I have no idea what it tasted like. I’m fairly certain it was not classic New England Chowder. That recipe is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ship-ahoy/ Here is Manhattan clam chowder instead. People are really divided between the two chowders. I’ll take either, but I prefer Manhattan style because of the contrast of the sweetness of the clams and the acidity of the tomatoes. If you are a decent cook, all you need is the list of ingredients. Proportions and quantities, as always, are really up to the cook.

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Manhattan Clam Chowder

Ingredients

24 cherrystone clams, rinsed
1 tbsp butter
¼ lb slab bacon, diced
1 white onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large ribs celery, cleaned and diced
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
red pepper flakes, to taste
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed or roughly diced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley
oyster crackers

Instructions

Put the clams in a large, heavy Dutch oven, add about 4 cups water, then set over medium-high heat. Cover, and cook until the clams have opened, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. (Clams that fail to open after 15 to 20 minutes should be discarded.) Strain the clam broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth, muslin, or doubled-up paper towels, and set aside. Remove the clams from their shells, discard the shells and set aside the clams.

Rinse out the pot, and return it to stove. Add the butter, and turn the heat to medium-low. Add the bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the fat, and set aside.

Add the onions, garlic, celery, green pepper, potatoes and carrots to the fat, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened but not brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Add 4 cups of clam broth. Add the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf.

Partly cover the pot, and simmer gently until potatoes are just tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash a few potatoes against the side of the pot to release their starch and help thicken the broth.

When the potatoes are tender, stir in the tomatoes, and heat them through. Add the and reserved bacon, stirring to combine. Add black pepper to taste. Let chowder come to a simmer, and remove from the heat. Remove the thyme and the bay leaf.

The chowder should be allowed to sit for a while to cure. You can refrigerate it overnight if you like.

Reheat the chowder before serving, then garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with oyster crackers.

 

Aug 232016
 

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Today is Internaut Day celebrating the anniversary of the launch of the World Wide Web on this day in 1991. Sorry, I’m going to get a bit geeky for a while. I celebrated the birth of the Internet in April http://www.bookofdaystales.com/happy-birthday-internet/ but today is a different birthday. If you’re into metaphors you can think of these two – Internet and World Wide Web – as father and son. Colloquially people use terms like “Internet” and “Web” interchangeably, but they are not the same. The Web sits on top of the Internet and was a later development. The geeks among you can ignore what follows and go straight to the whisky bottle for a cheery celebration.

In April I spoke a little about how, starting in the 1960s, the Internet was built to link up computers – eventually internationally. All well and good. Using the Internet originally was not for the faint of heart. Via my (then) brother-in-law, I had access to the Internet back in the late 1980s. He controlled a university mainframe which he let me dial into, and, by a painful process, I exchanged my research data with a few colleagues. It was arduous, but a lot more efficient than mailing floppy disks back and forth, and allowed a very fruitful collaboration. Then the World Wide Web came along, and my life improved immensely.

Let me try to put things in simple terms. The Internet allowed people to transfer data globally, but sender and receiver had to actively do something to make the system work. There were no browsers and no websites as such. In March 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, wrote a proposal for “a large hypertext database with typed links.” Although the proposal attracted little interest, Berners-Lee was encouraged by his boss, Mike Sendall, to begin implementing his system on a newly acquired NeXT workstation. He considered several names, including Information Mesh, The Information Mine or Mine of Information, but settled on World Wide Web.

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Berners-Lee’s breakthrough was to marry hypertext to the Internet. In his book Weaving The Web, he explains that he had repeatedly suggested that a union of the two technologies was possible to members technical communities of the time, but when no one took up his invitation, he finally assumed the project himself. In the process, he developed three essential technologies:

  1. a system of globally unique identifiers for resources on the Web and elsewhere, the universal document identifier (UDI), later known as uniform resource locator (URL) and uniform resource identifier (URI);
  2. the publishing language HyperText Markup Language (HTML);
  3. the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Let me break this down into simple terms. The Internet had been like an electronic postal system. One person (the sender) encapsulated data electronically in a package and gave it to an electronic mailman who delivered it to another person (the receiver). The receiver picked up the package and read it. These data were mostly text based, and, just like regular mail, we’re talking about mail that goes from just one person to another (or possibly to a group of people). Then the Web came along. Now instead of just sending packages, people could build websites – let’s say this was like opening up parts of their houses for other people to enter and look around. They could look at pictures on the wall, read books there, play games, or whatever. In turn, other people, instead of just sending packages, could get in their cars and visit any house that was open to them. This is the Web that we know now. All you need is a browser (a car) and you can go anywhere in the world and you can stop off anywhere. You don’t need senders and receivers any more. You don’t have to be home when someone stops by to visit. You just have to have enough security in the house so that they don’t touch anything (or leave muddy footprints) – just look.

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The first effective browser was Mosaic. I remember it well. It was clunky and very slow. But it was a step forward. It might take 20 minutes to load a site that was text only, and an hour or more to load an image. Like many people, I used Netscape Navigator for browsing initially but moved up the food chain a long time ago (“long” in cybertime).

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“Internaut” is a portmanteau word combining “Internet” and astronaut and refers to a designer, operator, or technically capable user of the Internet. Beginning with participants in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), it gradually expanded to members of the Internet Society (ISoc) and the larger community. Now an internaut is often used in English to describe someone who is online savvy, typically through years of online experience, with a thorough knowledge of how to use search engines, Internet resources, forums, newsgroups and chat rooms to find information. So the more someone knows about the Internet, its history and politics, the more likely the term internaut fits. The less he or she knows the more likely a different term would be more fitting. Other terms roughly analogous with internaut are cybernaut and netizen (Internet + citizen), though each has its own connotation. In other languages “internaut” just means anyone who surfs the Web, and that’s the connotation most apt for today, the Web’s official birthday – 25 today. Happy Birthday !!!

IT specialists use a conceptualization of the movement of data around the Internet known as the OSI (Open System Interconnection) 7 Layer Model. The actual physical structure of the Internet — wires, hubs, etc. – along which data is transmitted in the form of electrical pulses is layer 1. The top layer, layer 7, is the software in your computer, such as your browser.  Altogether there are 7 layers as follows:

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You surf the Web using layer 7 and the information you input goes all the way down to layer 1, travels along the Internet, then pops up to layer 7 at the other end. This way the hardware and software does all the work for you, and it is these layers that marry the World Wide Web to the Internet. Since it is the Web’s 25th birthday today, a 7-layer birthday cake seems in order. The best I know of is the Dobos torte or Dobosh, a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. It is named after its inventor, Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos, who aimed to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries in an age when cooling techniques were limited. The round sides of the cake are coated with ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, or almonds, and the caramel topping helps to prevent drying out.

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Since we are celebrating the Web I will leave it to you to find a recipe of your choice on the Web. Or go here:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7650/dobos-torte/

 

 

Aug 182016
 

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Today is the birthday (1587) of Virginia Dare the first person of English descent born in the British Colonies in the New World. She was born to English parents Ananias Dare and Eleanor White (also spelled Eleanora, Ellinor or Elyonor) and named after the Virginia Colony. What became of Virginia and the other colonists remains a mystery. The fact of her birth is known because John White, Virginia’s grandfather and the governor of the colony, returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies. When White eventually returned three years later, the colonists were gone.

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During the past 400 years, Virginia Dare has become a figure in U.S. folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured as a main character in books, poems, songs, comic books, television programs, and films. Her name has been used to sell different types of goods, from vanilla products to wine and spirits. Many places in North Carolina and elsewhere in the Southern United States have been named in her honor. All of this is idle nonsense, of course. Virginia more than likely died as an infant.

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Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina: “Elenora, daughter to the governor of the city and wife to Ananias Dare, one of the assistants, was delivered of a daughter in Roanoke.” Little is known of the lives of either of her parents. Her mother Eleanor was born in London around 1563, and was married to Ananias Dare (born c. 1560), a London tiler and bricklayer, at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street in the City of London. Virginia Dare was one of two infants born to the colonists in 1587 and the only female child born to the settlers.

Nothing else is known of Virginia Dare’s presumably short life, as the Roanoke Colony did not endure. Virginia’s grandfather John White sailed for England for fresh supplies at the end of 1587, having established his colony. He was unable to return to Roanoke until August 18, 1590 due to England’s war with Spain and the pressing need for ships to defend against the Spanish Armada—by which time he found that the settlement had been long deserted. The buildings had collapsed and “the houses [were] taken down”.White was unable to find any trace of his daughter or granddaughter, or indeed any of the 80 men, 17 women, and 11 children who made up the Lost Colony.

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Nothing is known for certain of the fate of Virginia Dare or her fellow colonists. Governor White found no sign of a struggle or battle. The only clue to the colonists’ fate was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post of the fort, and the letters “Cro” carved into a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been dismantled, suggesting that their departure had not been hurried. Before he had left the colony, White had instructed them that, if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their disappearance had been forced. There was no cross, and White took this to mean that they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island), but he was unable to conduct a search.

There are a number of speculations regarding the fate of the colonists, the most widely accepted one being that they sought shelter with local Indians, and either intermarried with the natives or were killed. In 1607, John Smith and other members of the successful Jamestown Colony sought information about the fate of the Roanoke colonists. One report indicated that the survivors had taken refuge with friendly Chesapeake Indians, but Chief Powhatan claimed that his group had attacked and killed most of the colonists. Powhatan showed Smith certain artifacts that he said had belonged to the colonists, including a musket barrel and a brass mortar and pestle. However, no physical evidence exists to support this claim. The Jamestown Colony received reports of some survivors of the Lost Colony and sent out search parties, but none was successful. Eventually they concluded that they were all dead.

William Strachey, a secretary of the Jamestown Colony, wrote in The History of Travel into Virginia Britannia in 1612 that there were reportedly two-storey houses with stone walls at the native settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen which would suggest that Indians learned how to build them from the Roanoke settlers, since this type of building was not known to Indians of the region. There were also reported sightings of European captives at various Indian settlements during the same time period. Strachey also wrote that four English men, two boys, and one maid had been sighted at the Eno settlement of Ritanoc, under the protection of a chief called Eyanoco. The captives were being forced to beat copper. The captives, he reported, had escaped the attack on the other colonists and fled up the Chaonoke river, the present-day Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina.

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It’s purely conjecture on my part but I would assume that lack of food was a critical issue for the colonists. It was in Massachusetts. It’s hard now to put ourselves in the shoes of 16th century English colonists, but we have to remember that for them colonization in new territory was a completely new endeavor in all kinds of ways – not least being the production of crops in a strange land. They obviously brought cultigens such as wheat and barley with them, but lacked the skills to grow them successfully in the New World, and it would have taken them time to adapt to local ways. Besides, most of the local Indian groups were foragers and not farmers. Good Christian (i.e. “civilized”)men and women from England were not likely to take kindly to having to adapt to hunting and gathering to stay alive – and wouldn’t be any good at it anyway. To be successful at foraging you have to have a vast store of knowledge of local plants and animals. Fishing would be all right, though. Some of them must have done that in England.

Coastal North Carolina is teaming with fishing opportunities in the ocean, in the brackish sounds, and in rivers.   I lived on the coast of North Carolina, quite near where the Lost Colony was, for a year and eventually published a book about the people. I did go fishing a great deal both with commercial boats and also for fun with the locals. Catching mullet and roasting it over a driftwood fire deep in the swamps is a fond memory.

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Fish muddle is the generic name in North Carolina for a stew made from catch of the day with vegetables served over grits (or rice). You can think of this recipe as a suggestion rather than dogma. People throw in what they want and the fish or shellfish used vary with the seasons. The point is that it must be very fresh. What makes the stew unusual is the use of eggs, which can be cracked into the soup as it boils and poached, swirled in like an egg-drop soup, or boiled separately, peeled, and then chopped and added at the end.

Fish Muddle

Ingredients

1½ lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1½ lb firm fish fillets, cut into chunks
6 cups fish stock
8 oz bacon, chopped (or salt pork)
1 cup chopped celery
1½ cups chopped carrots
3 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
4 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 lb new potatoes, peeled and quartered
salt and pepper
hot pepper sauce
6 cups freshly cooked grits (or rice)
4 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
fresh parsley, chopped

saltines

Instructions

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crisp and rendered. If you are using salt pork, render it and brown it thoroughly. Drain the bacon or pork pieces and set aside leaving the fat in the skillet.

Stir in the celery, carrots, onions. Sauté until the vegetables are softened but not browned.

Transfer to a stock pot and add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. You can break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon if you want during the cooking process. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the stock, potatoes, and salt to taste. Stir and simmer until the potatoes are soft but not fully cooked.

Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with freshly ground black pepper and hot sauce to taste.

Gently stir the fish and shrimp into the stew. Cover the pot, and simmer gently until the fish and shrimp are just cooked. This is where experience comes in. I find that 5 minutes is usually enough. The shrimp can easily get tough.

Spoon the grits (or rice) into serving bowls. Ladle the stew over the grits and garnish with the eggs, bacon, and parsley.

Serve hot with saltines. Southerners like to crumble them on top.

Serves 6

This is a main meal, but you can omit the grits and increase the amount of stock to serve it as a soup.

Apr 082016
 

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The birthday of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama (that is, the Buddha), is a holiday traditionally celebrated in Mahayana Buddhism. In most Asian cultures it moves about the Gregorian calendar, but in Japan it is celebrated on this date and is called Hana Matsuri, that is, Flower Festival.

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According to the Theravada Tripitaka scriptures, Gautama was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu. The date of Buddha’s Birthday is based on Asian lunisolar calendars and is primarily celebrated in Baisakh month of the Buddhist calendar and the Bikram Sambat Hindu calendar. In Nepal, which is considered the birth-country of Buddha, it is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. In China and Korea, it is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years it may be celebrated in June.

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As a result of the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in lieu of the Chinese lunar calendar in 1873. Therefore, in most Japanese temples, Buddha’s birth is celebrated on the Gregorian calendar date April 8. The day is celebrated with parades featuring images of the baby Buddha, the white elephant seen by his mother in her dream just before his birth, and cherry blossoms carried by children dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. The famous sakura (cherry) trees bloom at this time, and so are given as offerings to adorn the nativity celebrations and ‘amacha’, sweet tea symbolic of the heavenly rain is poured over the baby Buddha.

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According to legend, briefly after the birth of young prince Gautama, an astrologer named Asita visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls. Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king, so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Gautama ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights—he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.

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As long-time readers know, I am reluctant to give Asian recipes for people who don’t live in Asia, but I do make them now and again when I can get the ingredients.  So here’s my recipe for Japanese rice and greens with miso sauce. Use oriental greens such as pak choi or baby bok choi. Use starchy short-grained rice. This is a vegetarian dish, suitable for celebrating the Buddha.

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Japanese Rice and Greens

Ingredients

140g short-grained rice
1 tbsp sesame seed, toasted
1 tbsp sunflower oil
250g baby bok choi or pak choi sliced lengthways
6 spring onion, cut in 1” pieces

sauce

2 tbsp white miso paste
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp finely grated ginger

Instructions

Soak the rice in cold water overnight.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and marinate the greens in it overnight.

Next day, boil the rice in the soaking water for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain.

Meanwhile remove the greens from the marinade, and reserve the marinade.

Heat oil in a wok or skillet over high heat.    Add the greens and stir fry briefly. Then add the rice and reserved marinade and heat through.  Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Apr 072016
 

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It’s all a bit arbitrary, but today is one of several days that is tagged as the birth date of the internet (1969). Things were happening both before and after 1969 that led to the development of what we now think of as the internet. But this date is taken by many in the geek squad as significant. I could go into a lot of detail about this, but I realize that if I do many readers will immediately glaze over. So I won’t start dribbling on about packet switching, DNS, TCP/IP, HTTP, encryption, IP addressing . . .  blah, blah, blah. If you are interested, you already know about this stuff. If you are not, my attempt at a dissertation won’t help.

Here’s just a small bit. Traditional telephone lines connect one phone to another via wires that are dedicated to a single call at a time. So if you are in Chicago and you call aunt Mabel in Miami, your call goes along lines that for the duration of the call are dedicated to that one call. You can build a pretty complicated system that way, handling millions of calls at a time. But you can’t build something like the internet that way.  The internet connects millions of computers – potentially to each other – AT THE SAME TIME. For that to happen you need a system that is different from traditional phone lines.

On 7 April 1969 the first Request for Comment (RFC) document was drafted by an engineer on the Pentagon’s ARPAnet (Advanced Research Project Agency network) project, a precursor of the modern Internet. An RFC is basically a technical document asking for input on an idea. This RFC essentially asked “how do we build a network that allows multiple computers to be connected to one another at the same time?” The answers led to the development of ARPAnet, and eventually the internet. ARPAnet was originally for military purposes, but as it evolved, its use as a general system of mass communication was evident. So now we have the internet – which is still evolving.

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Academics and the military used early forms of the internet before it went public. I was sending academic papers back and forth between colleagues by 1989, and I remember having to explain to people at the time what an e-mail address was. I had to dial into a mainframe, upload my mail (in basic ASCII) and send it off manually. To receive replies I had to reverse the process. I used an MS-DOS computer without WINDOWS. Old timers will grunt in sympathy at how clunky it all was. But I was in seventh heaven. Being able to trade my research with colleagues in other countries was a marvel. Prior to that I had to send typed papers in the mail, so that if I was lucky I could trade comments on an idea about twice a month. Even though it was a clunker, it was great for the times. I’m glad to have been part of it in what now seems like “early days,” even though we are only talking about 27 years ago.

I am painfully aware that the internet has changed communications dramatically in a very brief span of time, and that our culture has changed along with it in ways that are both good and bad. I love having the ability to communicate with friends and family around the world when I want to, but I despise sitting in a room with a bunch of people glued to their smart phones.  I also love the fact that I can write a post on Medieval France or 19th century Thailand, and within seconds conjure up numerous ideas for a recipe of the day.

Even though this is nominally a foodie blog, as I sometimes do I am not going to give you a recipe today.  If you are reading this, you have access to the internet. Search for yourself. You’ll not only find any kind of recipe that you want from around the globe, you’ll also be able to find any ingredient you want, no matter how exotic, and mail order it to be delivered to your door. Me? I’m an old curmudgeon. I’m off to the market to see what is fresh, and talk to people, person to person, in the process.

Feb 122016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy. Contemporary GOP politicians like to tout Lincoln as one of the founders of the Republican party, but this rhetoric is hopelessly misleading. Lincoln is as far from the modern Republican party as you could ever imagine. Lincoln must be turning in his grave at the sight of what his party has become.

Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, and grew up on the western frontier in Kentucky and Indiana. He was largely self-educated, became a lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, and then a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, in which he served for twelve years. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846, where he promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. Because he had originally agreed not to run for a second term in Congress, and because his opposition to the Mexican–American War was unpopular among Illinois voters, Lincoln returned to Springfield and resumed his law practice. He reentered politics in 1854 and became a leader in building the new Republican Party, which had a statewide majority in Illinois. In 1858, while taking part in a series of highly publicized debates with his opponent and rival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln spoke out against the expansion of slavery, but lost the U.S. Senate race to Douglas.

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In 1860, Lincoln secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. With very little support in the slave-holding states of the South, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. His victory prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederate States of America before he moved into the White House — no compromise or reconciliation was possible regarding slavery and secession. Subsequently, on April 12, 1861, a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter inspired the North to enthusiastically rally behind the Union in a declaration of war. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican Party, Lincoln confronted Radical Republicans, who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats, who called for more compromise, anti-war Democrats (called Copperheads), who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists, who plotted his assassination. Politically, Lincoln fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by carefully planned political patronage, and by appealing to the people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address became an iconic endorsement of the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

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Lincoln initially concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war. His primary goal was to reunite the nation. He suspended habeas corpus, leading to the controversial ex parte Merryman decision, and he averted potential British intervention in the war by defusing the Trent Affair in late 1861. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general, Ulysses S. Grant. He also made major decisions on Union war strategy, including a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, moves to take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and using gunboats to gain control of the southern river system. Lincoln tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond; each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another, until finally Grant succeeded. As the war progressed, his complex moves toward ending slavery included the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863; Lincoln used the U.S. Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraged the border states to outlaw slavery, and pushed through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery.

Lincoln reached out to the War Democrats as part of his effort and unifying the nation and managed his own re-election campaign in the 1864 presidential election. Anticipating the war’s conclusion, Lincoln pushed a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness, which, I am sad to say, lingers to this day. In some quarters in the South, the Civil War is still referred to as the War of Northern Aggression. On April 14, 1865, five days after the April 9th surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Here is my post on the assassination http://www.bookofdaystales.com/assassination-of-abraham-lincoln/ . You’ll find a wealth of primary source material here.

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Lincoln is an easy shot for a foodie blogger because there’s a wealth of material on his eating habits, his wife’s cooking, meals at the White House, and whatnot. I rather went to town on this stuff when I posted about Lincoln’s assassination, and you can review it, if you care to, in the link above. There’s also quite a few recipes there including Mary’s Courting Cake (and frosting), and terrapin stew. Here’s some more primary references included in secondary sources:

During several years of collecting material for The Presidents’Cookbook…we ran into all sorts of controversy concerning President Lincoln’s habits, his likes and dislikes, when it came to food. Judging from menus of the state balls and banquets given at the White House during Lincoln’s Administration–some of the most elaborate in our history–one might conclude that Honest Abe was a gourmet to end all gourmets. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Giving the opposite side of the picture, certain observers of the times…said flatly that Lincoln was almost entirely indifferent to food, ‘Except that he liked apples and hot coffee.’ The President’s bodyguard wrote, however, ‘Mr. Lincoln was a hearty eater. Her never lost his taste for things that a growing farmer’s boy would like. He was particularly fond of bacon.’ Probably like most of our strongest Presidents (excepting Jefferson), Lincoln relied on food to feed the furnace. Undoubtedly he ate well when served a tasty meal but was usually so preoccupied that he gave little thought to food. One thing seems certain: hew was a gentle man at the table and uncritical. His stepmother said, ‘He ate what was before him, making no complaint.’ A companion of his lawyer days, Leonard Sweet, wrote, ‘I never in the 10 years of circuit life I knew him heard him complain of a hard bed or a bad meal of victuals.

“Fast Gourmet: Honest Abe’s favorite Food,” Poppy Cannon, Chicago Daily Defender, (February 8, 1968, p. 22)

Just as so much about [Abraham Lincoln’s] life has been shrouded in latter-day myth and legend, making it difficult to assess the truth about the man, so, too, have his food habits and tastes been the subject of controversy…It seems to us that the food truth about Lincoln must lie somewhere between these extreme points of view…One aspect of Abraham Lincoln’s characteristically gentle nature was apparent in his approach to food… Temperamentally…Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln were totally unlike…This was strikingly apparent when it came to food and food history. Although both came originally from Kentucky, they reflected two completely different Kentucky traditions. Mary had been raised in the lush bluegrass region of the state, where gracious, comfortable living and rich, elaborate cooking were legendary. Abe grew up on the frontier, where he ate very plain food, partly for economic reasons, partly because of the frontier tradition. Corn dodgers, cakes made of coarse cornmeal, were a staple. Wild game provided the protein a growing boy needed. During the days of young manhood, where he boarded at the Rutledge Tavern in New Salem, his diet consisted largely of cornbread, mush, bacon, eggs, and milk. Several friends of that period recalled later that if Abe was partial to any one food it was honey, a great delicacy for him at the time.

The Presidents’ Cookbook, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (1968: 236-7)

Family meals at the Lincolns’ were routine. Early in the morning the President liked a “good hot cup of coffee.” But often he would forget about breakfast until 9 or 10A.M. John Hay, one of Lincoln’s private secretaries, occasionally ate with the President. He noted that the frugal repast might consist of “an egg, a piece of toast, coffee, etc.” On occasion breakfast was a single egg. For lunch, Hay reported, Lincoln “took a little lunch–a biscuit, a glass of milk in winter, some fruit or grapes in summer…He ate less than anyone I know.” Lunch was usually eaten irregularly.

The Presidents’ Cookbook, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (1968: 239)

Abraham Lincoln dined in a spartan fashion…He would rather nibble fruit. His wife Mary tried everything to make Abe eat but was frustrated time and time again to see the finest foods left all but untouched on his plate. One of the few entrees that would tempt Lincoln was Chicken Fricassee. He liked the chicken cut up in small pieces, fried with seasonings of nutmeg and mace and served with a gravy made of the chicken drippings. Mary Lincoln set a table at the White House, which included such food as Aspic of Tongue, Pate de Foie Gras, Turkey stuffed with Truffles, and all sorts of wild game, such as venison, pheasant, or canvasback duck. But all too often the President merely picked at his food.

(A Treasury of White House Cooking, Francois Rysavy (1972: 250)

The ‘gingerbread story,’ which [Lincoln] had mentioned . . . in one of the debates with Douglas, touched young and old. …’When we lived in Indiana,’ he said, ‘once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often, and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled the gingerbread and came into the house to get my share while it was still hot. My mother had baked me three gingerbread men. I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them. There was a family near us poorer than we were, and their boy came along as I sat down. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme a man?’ I gave him one. He crammed it into his mouth in two bites and looked at me while I was biting the legs off my first one. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme the onter’n.’ I said to him, ‘You seem to like gingerbread.’ ‘Abe,’ he says, ‘I don’t s’pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better’n I do–and gets less’n I do.’

(Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Carl Sandburg, (1926:2, 290)

So there you have it. The bacon mentioned here could have been any manner of pork salted or cured. Corn cakes, mush, etc., are all standard frontier fare that you’ll still find on Southern tables. Corn cakes are much like some styles of cornbread, only they are cooked on a griddle instead of baked. This recipe is serviceable although I am not sure how “authentic” it is.   The mix of cornmeal and flour makes them light. If you want you can just use 2 cups of cornmeal and eliminate the flour.

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Kentucky Corn Cakes

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tbsp sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1 tbsp corn oil
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 tsp salt

Instructions

Place the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, and salt in a bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, corn oil, and fresh corn and mix together. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ones without beating too much.

Pour a ladleful of the mixture on to a hot greased griddle. Cook on medium-high heat for 4 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Serve the cakes warm with butter and honey.