Jan 122018
 

Today is the birthday (1856) of John Singer Sargent, called an “American” artist because his parents were U.S. citizens, but he actually spent almost none of his life in North America. In his day he was considered by many to be the leading portrait painter of his generation, but subsequently his work tended to be overlooked because the portraiture he is best known for was, for a long time, considered rather old fashioned for the period, and place, he worked in, which was known more for Impressionism. Interest in his work increased in the late 20th century as his oeuvre was explored more fully, and it became evident that it is much more varied than is known by the general public (or at least those who care at all).

Before Sargent’s birth, his father, FitzWilliam, was an eye surgeon at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia from 1844 to 1854. After John’s older sister died at the age of two, his mother, Mary, suffered a mental breakdown, and the couple decided to go abroad to help her recover. They remained nomadic expatriates for the rest of their lives. Although based in Paris, Sargent’s parents moved regularly with the seasons to the sea and the mountain resorts in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While Mary was pregnant with John, they stopped in Florence to avoid a cholera epidemic, and Sargent was born there in 1856. A year later, his sister Mary was born. After her birth, FitzWilliam reluctantly resigned his post in Philadelphia and accepted his wife’s preference for them to remain abroad. They lived modestly on a small inheritance and savings, living a quiet life with their children. They generally avoided society and other U.S. citizens except for friends in the art world. The couple had 4 more children, two of whom died in childhood.

Sargent’s mother was convinced that traveling around Europe, and visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to have him formally schooled failed, owing mostly to their itinerant life. Sargent’s mother was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. Early on, she gave him sketchbooks and encouraged drawing excursions. Young Sargent worked with care on his drawings, and he enthusiastically copied images from The Illustrated London News of ships and made detailed sketches of landscapes. FitzWilliam had hoped that his son’s interest in ships and the sea might lead him toward a naval career.

At 13, his mother reported that, “John sketches quite nicely, & has a remarkably quick and correct eye. If we could afford to give him really good lessons, he would soon be quite a little artist.” Around that time, he received some watercolor lessons from Carl Welsch, a German landscape painter. His formal schooling was rather erratic, but Sargent turned into a well-educated young man, accomplished in art, music, and literature. He was fluent in French, Italian, and German. At 17, Sargent was described as “willful, curious, determined and strong, yet shy, generous, and modest.” He was well-acquainted with many of the great masters from first hand observation, and wrote in 1874, “I have learned in Venice to admire Tintoretto immensely and to consider him perhaps second only to Michelangelo and Titian.”

An attempt to study at the Academy of Florence failed because the school was re-organizing at the time, so, after returning to Paris from Florence, Sargent began his art studies with Carolus-Duran, who was on a meteoric rise at the time, and studied with him from 1874 to 1878. In 1874, on his first attempt, Sargent passed the rigorous exam required to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, the premier art school in France. He took drawing classes, which included anatomy and perspective. Sargent also took some lessons from Léon Bonnat.

Carolus-Duran’s atelier was progressive, dispensing with the traditional academic approach, which required careful drawing and underpainting, in favor of the alla prima method of working directly on the canvas with a loaded brush, derived from Diego Velázquez. It was an approach that relied on the proper placement of tones of paint. This approach also permitted spontaneous flourishes of color not bound to an under-drawing. Sargent’s early enthusiasm was for landscapes, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. Carolus-Duran’s expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious, but were much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood.

Sargent’s first major portrait was of his friend Fanny Watts in 1877, and was also his first Salon admission. Its particularly well-executed pose drew attention. His second salon entry was the Oyster Gatherers of Cançale, an impressionistic painting of which he made two copies. In 1879, at the age of 23, Sargent painted a portrait of teacher Carolus-Duran; the virtuoso effort met with public approval, and announced the direction his mature work would take. Its showing at the Paris Salon was both a tribute to his teacher and an advertisement for portrait commissions. Of Sargent’s early work, Henry James wrote that the artist offered “the slightly ‘uncanny’ spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn.”

After leaving Carolus-Duran’s atelier, Sargent visited Spain. There he studied the paintings of Velázquez, absorbing his technique, and in his travels gathered ideas for future works. He was entranced with Spanish music and dance. The trip also re-awakened his own talent for music, and which found visual expression in his early masterpiece El Jaleo (1882). Music would continue to play a major part in his social life as well, as he was a skillful accompanist of both amateur and professional musicians. Sargent became a strong advocate for modern composers, especially Gabriel Fauré. Trips to Italy provided sketches and ideas for several Venetian street scenes genre paintings, which effectively captured gestures and postures he would find useful in later portraiture.

Upon his return to Paris, Sargent quickly received several portrait commissions, and his career was launched. He immediately demonstrated the concentration and stamina that enabled him to paint with workman-like steadiness for the next 25 years. He filled in the gaps between commissions with many non-commissioned portraits of friends and colleagues.

I won’t belabor the history of Sargent’s career more. Instead, I will look at 3 significant works.

Portrait of Madame X

This portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau caused a major scandal when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884. Mme Gautreau was well known in Parisian social circles for using her beauty to advantage, and engaging in “infelicities.” She was sought after by numerous portraitists, because of the notoriety a painting of her would secure the artist. Sargent went beyond the bounds of polite society, however, by deliberately painting her in a seductive pose wearing a provocative dress. The plunging neckline, oceans of bare skin, and come-hither stance were scandalous enough for late-19th-century Parisians, but in the original Sargent also painted the right strap of her dress hanging down over her arm, which was considered to be outrageously salacious. For a time Mme Gautreau had to retire from public, even though Sargent did not name her on the portrait. She was well known without being identified. In addition, Sargent’s commissions in France dried up completely, and so he moved to London where he flourished.

Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood

On a visit to Monet at Giverny in 1885, Sargent painted one of his most Impressionistic portraits: Monet at work painting outdoors with his new wife nearby. Sargent is usually not thought of as an Impressionist painter, but he sometimes used Impressionist techniques. This is his own version of the Impressionist style which he continued using into the late 1880s, after his visit to Monet. Monet later wrote on Sargent’s style: “He is not an Impressionist in the sense that we use the word, he is too much under the influence of Carolus-Duran.”

Gassed

In May 1918, Sargent was one of several painters commissioned by the British War Memorials Committee of the British Ministry of Information to create a large painting for a planned Hall of Remembrance. The plan for a Hall of Remembrance decorated by large paintings was abandoned when the project was incorporated with that for Imperial War Museum. Although he was 62 years old, he travelled to the Western Front in July 1918, accompanied by Henry Tonks. He spent time with the Guards Division near Arras, and then with the American Expeditionary Forces near Ypres. He was determined to paint an epic work with many human figures, but struggled to find a situation with American and British figures in the same scene. On 11 September 1918, Sargent wrote to Evan Charteris:

The Ministry of Information expects an epic – and how can one do an epic without masses of men? Excepting at night I have only seen three fine subjects with masses of men – one a harrowing sight, a field full of gassed and blindfolded men – another a train of trucks packed with “chair à cannon” – and another frequent sight a big road encumbered with troops and traffic, I daresay the latter, combining English and Americans, is the best thing to do, if it can be prevented from looking like going to the Derby.

The “harrowing sight” referred to the aftermath of a German barrage that Sargent witnessed on 21 August 1918, at Le Bac-du-Sud, between Arras and Doullens, in which mustard gas had been used against the advancing 99th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and 8th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division of the British Army, during the Second Battle of Arras of 1918. You can see his deliberate homage to Breughel (The Blind Leading the Blind):

Sargent’s painting is huge, and, for me, is haunting, and captivates the horrors of the Great War. Curiously, in its day it had a remarkably mixed reception. Virginia Woolf, for example, described it as annoyingly patriotic, and E.M. Forster called it “too heroic.” I don’t see that at all. What was in their heads?

Sargent’s Birthday Party, is perhaps not as well known as his portraiture. It shows his mix of Realism and Impressionism, and also his characteristic use of color – especially the contrast of red and white, which you find in numerous portraits. So I thought that a characteristic (American) red and white cake would be appropriate for celebrating his birthday: the classic red velvet cake.

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients

Cake:

½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa
4 tbsp red food coloring
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar

Icing:

5 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C.

Grease two 9-inch round pans.

For the cake: Beat the shortening and 1 ½ cups sugar together until they are very light and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly and beat well. Make a paste of the cocoa and red food coloring and beat into the creamed mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and buttermilk together. Add the flour to the batter, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a cup and gently fold into the cake batter. Don’t beat or stir the batter after this point.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack.

For the icing: Put 5 tablespoons flour and milk into a saucepan, whisk, and then cook over low heat until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool completely. While the mixture is cooling, beat 1 cup of sugar, butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the cooled flour and milk mixture and beat until the icing is a good spreading consistency.

Split the cakes into layers, spreading the icing thickly between each layer, and then over the top and sides of the cake.

Dec 172017
 

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday. For some inexplicable reason (early onset Alzheimer’s maybe?) I left out Gaudete Sunday last year when I was “unpacking” Christmas, so let me rectify that omission now. On the third Sunday in Advent we light the third candle on the Advent wreath: the candle of peace. On standard Western wreaths the third candle is pink or rose colored in contrast with the other three which are either violet or purple, and in traditions where clerical vestments are normal, rose is the preferred color of the day. You may also adorn the church with rose-colored articles. In the eastern Orthodox church, and some western European countries the candles on the wreath are all red, as is mine this year (lead photo). I haven’t changed denominations, I just can’t find violet or rose candles in Phnom Penh, but red ones are abundant.

The name “Gaudete” comes from the day’s introit in the Latin Mass of the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

(Philippians 4:4)

This introit carol was made popular by Steeleye Span in the 1970s, but I prefer it in a clerical setting.

One year on this Sunday, when I was pastor at Livingston Manor, I had the choir process into church singing the chorus parts while I sang the solo from the gallery: very joyous (but not really traditional). The organist balked because I gave her my transcription from a medieval MS, as is – no measure lines.  She was flummoxed, and solved the problem by marking them in. Oh dear! Classically trained musicians can be a pain.

Conventionally in Western liturgical traditions, confession and penance are suspended for Gaudete Sunday because it should be a day of unalloyed rejoicing. Forget about your past wrongdoing, and focus on the good things in your life. I’m always happy when I am cooking.

Here is a recipe for an Advent cake created by Jamie Oliver, which I have modified for Gaudete Sunday. Fruit cakes decorated with marzipan are the taste of Christmas for me. My two photos here give two different ideas.  Either color all the marzipan rose, or leave most of the marzipan natural colored and decorate with pink roses of marzipan. In the latter case you will need extra marzipan.

Advent Fig Cake

Ingredients

For the cake

225g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp mixed spice (cloves, nutmeg, allspice)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
200g butter
200g dark brown sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp orange marmalade
¼ tsp vanilla essence
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
800g dried figs, roughly chopped
100g mixed peel, chopped
150g glace cherries, halved
100g blanched almonds, chopped
250ml brandy

To decorate

200g marzipan plus extra for additional decorations.
1-2 tbsp orange marmalade, warmed
food coloring

Instructions

Soak the chopped dried figs, chopped mixed peel and glace cherries in 250ml brandy at least overnight, and preferably longer. I have soaked them for a month with good effect.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F Grease an 18cm/7inch square cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment.

Sieve the flour, salt, mixed spice and cinnamon into a bowl.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and then mix in the treacle, marmalade and vanilla essence until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, a little at a time, and add a tablespoon of the flour mixture at the end.

Fold in the remaining flour mixture, don’t use beaters, until well mixed and then mix in the dried fig, mixed peel, glace cherries and the chopped almonds.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and make a slight hollow in the center.

Bake in the oven for 3 hours and then test with a toothpick. If it is not yet cooked through (there is dough sticking to the toothpick), continue baking, testing every 20 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Then turn out on to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Place the cooled cake on a cake plate.

Dust your hands with icing sugar and knead the marzipan. Add a little red food coloring to make it pink, and continue kneading until the marzipan is soft and the color is evenly distributed (if you are making a pink cake). If you are making a plain cake with decorations, knead the extra marzipan with coloring and knead the bulk of it without.

Roll out half the marzipan to fit the top of the cake and roll out the rest in strips to fit around the sides of the cake.

Brush the cake all over with the warmed orange marmalade and then place the marzipan on top and around the cake. Decorate as you see fit.

Cover the cake with a clean tea towel and then leave in a cool place for at least one day.

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 092017
 

Today is 9-9 (9th of September) in the Gregorian calendar which makes it the double ninth.  In the lunar calendar, used for religious and civic festivals in Asia, the double ninth (ninth day of the ninth lunar month) is an important day which wanders around October in the Gregorian calendar.  But Japan has modified its lunar calendar events to fit the Gregorian calendar, so today is the double ninth there, also called the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句). I’ll take today’s post to look at all Double-Ninth Festivals in Asia even though it’s celebrated only in Japan on this date this year.

According to the I Ching, nine is a yang number. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month (or double nine) has too much yang and is, thus, a potentially dangerous date. Hence, the day is also called “Double Yang Festival” (重陽節). To protect against danger, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the zhuyu (茱萸) plant, Cornus officinalis. Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses.

On this holiday some Chinese also visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. In Hong Kong, whole extended families head to ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and to lay out food offerings such as roast suckling pig and fruit, which are then eaten (after the spirits have consumed the spiritual element of the food). Chongyang Cake is also popular. Incense sticks are burned. Cemeteries get crowded, and each year grass fires are inadvertently started by the burning incense sticks.

The Chinese origin legend is as follows:

Once there was a man named Huan Jing, who believed that a monster would bring pestilence. He told his countrymen to hide on a hill while he went to defeat the monster. Later, people celebrated Huan Jing’s defeat of the monster on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.

In 1966, Taiwan rededicated the holiday as “Senior Citizens’ Day”, underscoring one custom as it is observed in China, where the festival is also an opportunity to care for and appreciate the elderly.

Double Ninth may have originated as a day to drive away danger, but like the Chinese New Year, over time it became a day of celebration. In contemporary times it is an occasion for hiking and chrysanthemum appreciation. Stores sell rice cakes (糕 “gāo”, a homophone for height 高) with mini colorful flags to represent zhuyu. Most people drink chrysanthemum tea, while a few traditionalists drink homemade chrysanthemum wine. Children learn poems about chrysanthemums, and many localities host chrysanthemum exhibits. Mountain climbing races are also popular; winners get to wear a wreath made of zhuyu.

In Japan, the festival is known as Chōyō but also as the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊の節句) and is celebrated at both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. There are also traditional sports on the day including crow sumo.

There is an often-quoted Chinese poem about the holiday, Double Ninth, Remembering my Shandong Brothers (九月九日憶山東兄弟), by the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei:

獨在異鄉為異客,
dú zài yì xiāng wéi yì kè

每逢佳節倍思親。
měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn

遙知兄弟登高處,
yáo zhī xiōng dì dēng gāo chù

遍插茱萸少一人。
biàn chā zhū yú shǎo yī rén

As a lonely stranger in a foreign land,
At every holiday my homesickness increases.
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the peak;
They are wearing the zhuyu, but one is not present.

There are various cakes made for today called Double Ninth cake, also known as “chrysanthemum cake” or “flower cake”. It dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (11th century – 256 BCE). It is said that the cake was originally prepared after autumn harvests for farmers to have a taste of what was just in season, and it gradually became the cake for people to eat on the Double Ninth Day.

The cake was usually made of glutinous rice flour, millet flour or bean flour. In the Tang Dynasty, its surface was usually planted with a small pennant of multi-colored paper and bore at its center the Chinese character “ling” (order). The Double Ninth cake in the Song Dynasty was usually made with great care a few days before the Double Ninth Day, its surface covered with colored pennants and inlaid with Chinese chestnuts, ginkgo seeds, pine nut kernels and pomegranate seeds.

It was considered a nice festive present for relatives or friends. In the Ming Dynasty, imperial families customarily began to eat the cake early on the first day of the 9th lunar month to mark the festival, while the common people usually enjoyed it with their married daughters. It was basin-sized and covered with two or three layers of jujubes. The cake in the Qing Dynasty was made like a 9-storied pagoda, which was topped with two sheep images made of dough. The cake was called Chong Yang Gao in Chinese, which means Double Ninth cake as “Chong” means double, “Yang” simultaneously suggests nine and sheep, and “Gao” means cake. Also, because “Gao” (cake) shares the pronunciation with “Gao” (high, tall), people hope to get a higher position in life by having Gao on the Double Ninth Day.

Sep 042017
 

On this date in 1949 there were full scale riots outside Peekskill NY (Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County) protesting a concert given by Paul Robeson and others. They were, ostensibly anti-communist riots but with strong elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I want to highlight them today to point out that rioting in support of White supremacy, White nationalism, along with police brutality against African-Americans has a long history in the United States, and not only in the South.The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, and sympathies with communism and anti-colonialist sentiments. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill.

Robeson had given three earlier concerts in Peekskill without incident, but subsequently Robeson had been increasingly vocal against the Ku Klux Klan and other forces of White supremacy, both domestically and internationally. Robeson had made the transformation from someone who was primarily a singer into a political persona with vocal support for what were at the time popularly considered “communist” causes, including the decolonization of Africa, anti-Jim Crow legislation, and peace with the USSR. Robeson had also appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to oppose a bill that would require communists to register as foreign agents and, just months before the concerts in 1949, he had appeared at the Soviet-sponsored World Peace Conference in Paris. Referring to the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR, his exact words were:

We in America do not forget that it was the backs of White workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of Blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong…We shall support peace and friendship among all nations, with Soviet Russia and the People’s Republics.

What came over the wires to news agencies via the AP in the United States was as follows,

We colonial peoples have contributed to the building of the United States and are determined to share its wealth. We denounce the policy of the United States government which is similar to Hitler and Goebbels…. It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against the Soviet Union which in one generation has lifted our people to full human dignity.

Research by historians would later show that the AP had put a prepared dispatch on the wires as Robeson was starting his speech, not reporting what he actually said. The false reporting was not investigated by the US press for its veracity and there was nationwide condemnation of Robeson. In the early stages of the Cold War and its accompanying wide anti-communist sentiments in the West, this statement was seen by many as especially anti-American. The local paper, the Peekskill Evening Star, condemned the concert and encouraged people to make their position on communism felt, but did not directly espouse violence. There was a strong racial element to the riots, including burning crosses and lynching an effigy of Robeson both in Peekskill and in other areas of the United States.

The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27th in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, a mob of locals attacked concert-goers with baseball bats and rocks. The local police arrived hours later and did little to intervene. Thirteen people were seriously injured, Robeson was lynched in effigy and a cross was seen burning on an adjacent hillside. The concert was then postponed until September 4th. Following the concert, new requests for Klan memberships from the Peekskill area numbered 748.

Robeson’s longtime friend and Peekskill resident, Helen Rosen, who had agreed to collect Robeson at the train station, had heard on the radio that protesters were massing at the concert grounds. Robeson drove with Rosen and two others to the concert site and saw marauding groups of youngsters, a burning cross on a nearby hill and a jeering crowd throwing rocks and chanting “Dirty Commie” and “Dirty Kikes.” Robeson made more than one attempt to get out of the car and confront the mob but was restrained by his friends.

The media were flooded with reactions and charges. The Joint Veterans Council of Peekskill refused to admit any involvement, describing its activities as a “protest parade… held without disorder and… perfectly disbanded.” Peekskill police officials said the picnic grounds had been outside their jurisdiction.  A state police spokesman said there had never been a request for state troopers. The commander of Peekskill Post 274 of the American Legion stated: “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached.”

Following a meeting of local citizens, union members, and Robeson supporters who formed “The Westchester Committee for Law and Order” it was unanimously determined that Robeson should be invited back to perform in Peekskill. Representatives from various left-wing unions – the Fur and Leather Workers, the Longshoremen and the United Electrical Workers – all agreed to converge and serve as a wall of defense around the concert grounds. Ten union men slept on the property of the Rosens, effectively guarding it. A call was then put out by the “Emergency Committee to Protest the Peekskill Riot.” On Tuesday, August 30, an overflow crowd of 3,000 people assembled peacefully and without incident at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to hear Robeson speak:

I will be loyal to America of true traditions; to the America of the abolitionists, of Harriet Tubman, of Thaddeus Stevens, of those who fought for my people’s freedom, not of those who tried to enslave them. And I will have no loyalty to the Forrestals, to the Harrimans, to the WallStreeters… the surest way to get police protection is to have it very clear that we’ll protect ourselves, and good!… I’ll be back with my friends in Peekskill…

The re-scheduled (September 4, 1949) concert itself was free from violence, though marred by the presence of a police helicopter overhead and the flushing out of at least one sniper’s nest. The concert was located on the grounds of the old Hollow Brook Golf Course in Cortlandt Manor, near the site of the original concert. 20,000 people showed up. Security was organized by the Communist Party and Communist dominated labor unions. The men were directed by the Communist Party and some unions to form a line around the outer edge of the concert area and were sitting with Robeson on the stage. They were there to fight any protestors who objected to Robeson’s presence. They effectively kept the local police from the concert area. The musicians performed without incident.

Setlist (incomplete)

Sylvia Kahn: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Piano performances by Leonid Hambro and Ray Lev[19] including works by Chopin and Bach, Prokofiev and Ravel

Singing by soprano Hope Foye

Pete Seeger: “T For Texas”, “If I Had a Hammer”,[18] and another song[23]

Paul Robeson: “Go Down Moses”, the English ballad “No John No”, and “Farewell, My Son, I’m Dying” («Прощай, мой сын, умираю…», Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu…), the final aria from Boris Godunov, and other songs including “America the Beautiful” and traditional spirituals, ending with “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson’s accompaniment was provided by Larry Brown.

 

The aftermath of the concert was far from peaceful, however. After some violence to south-going buses near the intersection of Locust Avenue and Hillside Avenue, concertgoers were diverted to head northward to Oregon Corners and forced to run a gauntlet, miles long, of veterans and their families, who threw rocks through windshields of the cars and buses. Much of the violence was also caused by anti-Communist members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters. An angry mob of rioters chanted “go on back to Russia, you niggers” and “white niggers”, some of the concertgoers and union members, along with writer Howard Fast and others assembled a non-violent line of resistance, locked arms, and sang the song “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Some people were reportedly dragged from their vehicles and beaten. Over 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged as police stood by.

One car carried Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Seeger’s wife Toshi, and his infant children. Guthrie pinned a shirt to the inside of the window to stop it shattering. “Wouldn’t you know it, Woody pinned up a red shirt,” Hays recalled. Seeger used some of the thrown rocks to build the chimney of his cabin in the Town of Fishkill, New York, to stand as a reminder of that incident.

The first African-American combat pilot and decorated World War I veteran, Eugene Bullard, was knocked to the ground and beaten by the mob, which included White members of state and local law enforcement. The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning, Sidney Poitier-narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted for the assault. Graphic photos of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper and concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s pictorial biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Following the riots, more than 300 people went to Albany to voice their indignation to Governor Thomas Dewey, who refused to meet with them, blaming communists for provoking the violence. Twenty-seven plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Westchester County and two veterans’ groups. The charges were dismissed three years later.

Following the riots, House Representative John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi) condemned Robeson on the house floor. When Republican New York Congressman Jacob Javits spoke to the United States House of Representatives, deploring the Peekskill riots as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly, Rankin replied angrily. “It was not surprising to hear the gentlemen from New York defend the Communist enclave,” Rankin bellowed, saying that he wanted it known that the American people are not in sympathy “with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.” On a point of order, American Labor Party House Representative Vito Marcantonio protested to speaker Rayburn that “the gentlemen from Mississippi used the word ‘nigger.’ I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race.” Rayburn claimed that Rankin had not said “nigger” but “Negro” but Rankin yelled over him saying “I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say.” Speaker Rayburn then defended Rankin, ruling that “the gentlemen from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order… referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation.” Then Representative Edward E. Cox (D-Georgia) denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Within a few days, hundreds of editorials and letters appeared in newspapers across the nation and abroad, by prominent individuals, organizations, trade unions, churches and others. They condemned not only the attacks but also the failure of Governor Dewey and the State Police to protect the lives and property of citizens, and called for a full investigation of the violence and prosecution of the perpetrators. Despite condemnation from progressives and civil rights activists, the mainstream press and local officials overwhelmingly blamed Robeson and his fans for “provoking” the violence. Following the Peekskill riots, other cities became fearful of similar incidents, and over 80 scheduled concert dates of Robeson’s were canceled.

On September 12, 1949, in response to Robeson’s controversial status in the press and leftist affiliations, the National Maritime Union convention considered a motion that Robeson’s name be removed from the union’s honorary membership list; the motion was withdrawn for lack of support among members. Later that month, the All-China Art and Literature Workers’ Association and All-China Association of Musicians of Liberated China protested the Peekskill attack on Robeson. On October 2, 1949, Robeson spoke at a luncheon for the National Labor Conference for Peace, Ashland Auditorium, Chicago, and referenced the riots.

In recent years, Westchester County has gone to great lengths to make amends to the survivors of the riots by holding a commemorative ceremony, at which an apology was made for their treatment. In September 1999, county officials held a “Remembrance and Reconciliation Ceremony, 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1949 Peekskill riots.” It included speakers Paul Robeson, Jr., Peter Seeger and several local elected officials.

When I celebrated Robeson’s birthday here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/paul-r/  I mentioned the heirloom Paul Robeson tomato which was bred in the Soviet Union in honor of his visit. If you can get hold of some, a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich would be in order.  Also in his honor, several cake recipes appeared in cookbooks in the Soviet Union – all full of chocolate and very rich layered cakes. Here’s a couple of sites that have rather incomplete recipes (in Russian and in bad translation):

https://www.edimdoma.ru/retsepty/8383-tort-pol-robson

https://bashny.net/t/en/350946

This gallery may inspire you.

The cakes all have one thing in common: they are made of black and white layers (very subtle).  Some are covered in chocolate icing, some with a mix of cream and chocolate.

Aug 292017
 

On this date in 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach received a patent for the Daimler Petroleum Reitwagen (“riding car”) or Einspur (“single track”). It is widely recognized as the first petrol driven motorcycle. Daimler is sometimes called “the father of the motorcycle” for this invention. Even though three steam powered two wheelers preceded the Reitwagen, the Michaux-Perreaux and Roper of 1867–1869, and the 1884 Copeland and can be considered to be motorcycles, the Reitwagen remains, nonetheless, the first petrol driven internal combustion motorcycle, and the forerunner of all vehicles, land, sea and air, that use its engine type. Daimler, of course, moved on from two-wheelers to four-wheelers.

The Reitwagen’s status as the first motorcycle rests on whether the definition of “motorcycle” includes having an internal combustion engine. The Oxford English Dictionary uses this criterion, but even by that definition, the use of four wheels instead of two raises doubts. The Reitwagen had two outriggers with small wheels, affixed like training wheels, because it was not properly stable due to the front wheel fork lying vertically under the handlebars instead of at an angle (the principles of “rake” and “trail”). I’m not sure why the front fork wasn’t raked because the principle was well understood in cycling by that time. A raked fork makes steering much easier.

Daimler visited Paris in 1861 and spent some time observing the first internal combustion engine developed by Etienne Lenoir. These observations were helpful later when he joined Nikolaus August Otto’s company N.A. Otto & Cie (Otto and Company). By 1872 Daimler had become the director of N.A. Otto & Cie, the world’s largest engine manufacturer.  Otto’s company had created the first successful gaseous fuel engine in 1864 and in 1876 finally succeeded in creating a compressed charge gaseous petroleum engine under the direction of Daimler and his plant engineer Wilhelm Maybach (Daimler’s long-time friend).

Otto had no interest in making engines small enough to be used in transportation. After some dispute over the direction design of the engines should take Daimler left Deutz and took Maybach with him. Together they moved to the town of Cannstatt where they began work on a “high speed explosion engine.” This goal was achieved in 1883 with the development of their first engine, a horizontal cylinder engine that ran on Petroleum Naptha. The Otto engines were incapable of running at speeds much higher than 150 to 200 rpm and were not designed to be throttled. Daimler’s goal was to build an engine small enough that it could be used to power a wide range of transportation equipment with a minimum rotation speed of 600 rpm. This was realized with the 1883 engine. The next year Daimler and Maybach developed a vertical cylinder model which they called the Grandfather Clock engine and achieved 700 rpm (and soon 900). This was made possible by using a hot-tube ignition, developed by an English engineer, instead of an electrical ignition system (which at the time was unreliable). The hot tube ignition was a platinum tube running into the combustion chamber, heated by an external open flame. The engine had a float metered carburetor, used mushroom intake valves which were opened by the suction of the piston’s intake stroke. It could also run on coal gas. It used twin flywheels and had an aluminium crankcase.

Having achieved the goals of producing a throttling engine with high enough rpm, yet small enough to be used in transportation, Daimler and Maybach built the 1884 engine into a two-wheeled test frame which was patented as the “Petroleum Reitwagen” (Petroleum Riding Car). This test machine demonstrated the feasibility of a liquid petroleum engine which used a compressed fuel charge to power an automobile.  The first motorcycle was created along the way to Daimler’s real goal, a four-wheeled car, and earning him credit as the inventor of the motorcycle in spite of himself. Daimler’s and Maybach’s next step was to install the engine in a test bed to prove the viability of their engine in a vehicle. Their goal was to learn what the engine could do, and not to create a motorcycle; it was just that the engine prototype was not yet powerful enough for a full-sized carriage.

The original design of 1884 used a belt drive, and twist grip on the handlebars which applied the brake when turned one way and tensioned the drive belt, applying power to the wheel, when turned the other way. Roper’s velocipede of the late 1860s used a similar two way twist grip handlebar control. The plans also called for steering linkage shafts that made two right angle bends connected with gears, but the actual working model used a simple handlebar without the twist grip or gear linkage. The design was patented on August 29, 1885.

It had a 264-cubic-centimetre (16.1 cu in) single-cylinder Otto cycle four-stroke engine mounted on rubber blocks, with two iron tread wooden wheels and a pair of spring-loaded outrigger wheels to help it remain upright. Its engine output of 0.5 horsepower (0.37 kW) at 600 rpm gave it a speed of about 11 km/h (6.8 mph). Daimler’s 17-year-old son, Paul, rode it first on November 18, 1885, going 5–12 kilometres (3.1–7.5 mi), from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim. The seat caught fire on that excursion. The engine’s hot tube ignition (which was very hot), being located directly underneath. Over the winter of 1885–1886 the belt drive was upgraded to a two-stage, two-speed transmission with a belt primary drive and the final drive using a ring gear on the back wheel. By 1886 the Reitwagen had served its purpose and was abandoned in favor of research on four wheeled vehicles. But the motorbike was here to stay.

For several years the “Hairy Bikers” produced a cooking show on BBC television which involved them traveling around England and Europe on their motorbikes.  Here’s an episode they made traveling around Germany, including the region where Daimler worked.  Pay special attention to the Black Forest cake.

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.

Jan 112017
 

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Since 2010 this date has been designated as Tag des deutschen Apfels (German Apples Day) in Germany, a campaign started by the National Association of Fruit and Vegetables Producers as a part of a more general campaign: “Germany – My Garden” to raise awareness of farm products that are locally grown. The main objective of German Apples Day is to draw public attention to apples and make them more popular across the country.  January might seem like an odd month to celebrate apples given that in Germany at this time of year apple trees are bare. But the good thing about apples is that they keep well over the winter months if they are stored at cool temperatures.

The German apple growing area was about 32,000 hectares (79,000 acres) in 2012, a little less than in  2007, although the number of apple trees increased by about 6% to about 72 million. Roughly 87% of the apples are sold fresh for eating and cooking. The remaining 13% are processed. The most popular varieties Elstar, Jonagold, Janagored, and Braeburn.  All told, though, there are between 3,000 and 5,000 varieties of apples grown in Germany, but some of the heirloom varieties are becoming quite rare.  The great proliferation of varieties stems from historical needs. Some were used for wine and cider, some for cooking, some for long storage and so forth, and different varieties were especially well suited for specific locations.  The apple is still by far the most popular fruit in Germany but there is concern that popularity is waning and the diversity of choices is decreasing.

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German Apples Day is celebrated by giving out hundreds of thousands of apples in major cities in Germany. Every year locally grown apples are distributed to schools and businesses, and even to passers-by in the streets for free.

Today is a good day to celebrate apples by using them in cooking. In past posts I have given recipes for apple pancakes, apple pie, apple strudel, apple crumble etc. Today it seems fitting to give a recipe for German apple cake, a very moist cake loaded with apples.

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German Apple Cake

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
4 cups  peeled, cored and diced apples

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Grease and flour one 9″x 13″ cake pan.

In a mixing bowl beat the oil and eggs with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and ground cinnamon together in a bowl. Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until combined. The batter will be very thick. Fold in the apples by hand using a wooden spoon.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until cake a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool a little on a wire rack, then turn it out on to a serving plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

May 162016
 

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Today is  Whit Monday in Britain and the Commonwealth and Pentecost Monday in other parts of the world. It is a civic rather than a church festival. The Monday after Pentecost is a holiday in Austria, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Catalonia, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Hungary, Iceland, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montserrat, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, Togo and Ukraine. In France, it became a work day for many workers from 2005 to 2007. This was to raise extra funds following the government’s lack of preparation for a summertime heat wave, which led to a shortage of proper health care for the elderly. It continues now to be a public holiday in France.

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In Liechtenstein, Whit Monday is an extremely popular holiday akin to Christmas in other countries. Until 1973, Whit Monday was a public holiday in Ireland (also called a bank holiday). It was a bank holiday in the United Kingdom until 1967. It was formally replaced by the fixed Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May in 1971. It was also a public holiday in various former British colonies, especially in the Pacific. It remains a public holiday in some of the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean. In Sweden, Whit Monday was a public holiday until 2004 when it was replaced by the National Day of Sweden.

Nowadays countries generally dislike having public holidays that are pegged to the date of Easter and, therefore, swing about the calendar so much. Whit Monday can fall anywhere from early May to mid-June. It’s rather early this year and that means that the weather will be unpredictable in Britain. The newer Spring Bank Holiday makes things a little more fixed and predictable, but the weather is still anyone’s guess.

Germany Tradition Sorbs

Whit Monday, though tied to religious festivals, is not especially religious in itself in most parts of the world. In some Germanic Catholic regions it is, but for most people and cultures it’s just an excuse for a holiday. I’m up for that. A random day off work never hurts, especially if it extends the weekend. In England, Whit Monday used to be a day off that could be used for picnics, political rallies, outings and so forth much as Spring Bank Holiday is now. But for me the most important aspect of the day is that it used to be a chance for morris dancers to begin their dance season.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I wrote the definitive history of morris dancing, in large part to dispel so much rubbish talked about its history. So many people want to see it as a “survival” of ancient pre-Christian ritual because they have been drawn in by ludicrous 19th century speculations about its history based on one or two dubious sources. Morris dancing in England cannot be traced further back than the 15th century and the references from that time are sparse and unhelpful. Things get better in the 16th century, but it is the 17th through 19th centuries when the picture gets clearer. When you actually collect together ALL the extant records, as I did over a 30-year period, it is perfectly clear that morris dancing was first a royal entertainment, then got adopted by churches as part of their annual festivities, then got banned during the Reformation, and finally re-emerged during the Restoration, and later, as a rural pastime for fun and to make money.

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People want to peg morris dancing to May Day because they want to believe that it is an old pagan ritual in new guise, but the history shows that it was more common to dance on Whit Monday, not because it was a religious holiday, but because it was a day off for fun. As morris dancing died out at the end of the 19th century, dancing on Whit Monday withered also. But it did survive in the town of Bampton in Oxfordshire, and continues to this day, although shifted to Bank Holiday Monday nowadays.

Festivities in Bampton have grown significantly over the years, but the general course of the day remains the same. The Bampton dancers tour the town during the day, stopping at carefully scheduled sites. Fixed scheduling is necessary because in the 1960s the dancers fissioned into two competing teams who did not want to collide, but both wanted to share the day. Then they were known by the family names of their respective leaders (Woodley and Shergold), and each group had their followers. I was in the Shergold camp. Now there are THREE teams !!!

Bampton dancers on Whit Monday 1979 Photo © Bill Smith 28th May 1979

Photo © Bill Smith 28th May 1979

After the daytime dancing, teams from various parts of the country are invited to dance. I danced there with Oxford University Morris Men in the early 1970s. Once in a while I pop back for a visit, but it is not often, and I have not been there since the 1990s. The cast of characters does not change much. I can’t go this year, but if I attend some time in the future I’m bound to run into old friends. That’s the value of classic calendar customs. Forget the ancient, pagan nonsense. Whit Monday is a day off to have fun, and it was 200 years ago as well.

Whit Monday is not associated with particular foods. The word Whit is an abbreviation of Whitsun, from Whitsunday  and ultimately White Sunday. The general conjecture is that Whitsunday was so called because baptismal candidates and new communicants wore white, and Pentecost has historically been associated with baptism and first communion. Some people, therefore, like to prepare white foods in celebration. Well, I mentioned red foods yesterday for Pentecost, so white foods would be all right, although hardly thrilling.

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We’re talking about rice, pasta, cauliflower, coconut, and so forth. Many foods that are called “white,” such as beans, are not really white, and white foods in general can be bland. Wherever they are staples they are dressed up with a sauce or condiment. You’re not going to find me eating tofu by itself.  Generally speaking, adding “white” to any food turns me off: white bread, white cake, white pepper, white sauce. Ugh. White food even looks unappetizing to me. If you want to make a white meal to celebrate, go ahead, but don’t invite me.

Though it goes against the grain, here’s a recipe for white cake from Bolivia. It is salvaged for me by the generous addition of lemon. Vanilla would be all right too. “Vanilla” is often treated as a synonym for “bland” which is unfair. This comes about because typical commercial vanilla ice-creams are white and tasteless. True vanilla is not white and is not bland.

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Bolivian White Cake

Ingredients

Cake

1 cup flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ cup cornstarch
⅛ tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup white sugar
grated zest of ½ lemon
5 tbsp water

Icing

3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon extract
3 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp hot water

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch-square baking pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

Place the eggs in a separate bowl, making sure that they are thoroughly beaten and frothy. Add the sugar to the eggs slowly and beat vigorously as you go. Using a stand mixer for this step is best. Add the  lemon and water to  the egg mixture and continue to beat well.

If you are using a stand mixer, remove the bowl and fold in the flour mixture, a little at a time. Do not over mix, but make sure the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Insert one into the center of the cake after about 20 minutes and see if it comes out clean.  As soon as it does remove the cake from the oven. Let it cool for several minutes and then turn it out on a wire rake to cook completely.

Meanwhile make the icing. Beat all the icing ingredients together in a small bowl.  You can use a stand mixer but do not beat too hard.  The icing needs to be creamy, but not frothy. Spread the icing evenly along the top and sides of the cake. You can chill the cake to allow the icing to harden if you like.

Nov 122015
 

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Today is the birthday (1840) of François Auguste René Rodin, renowned French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past. Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with the predominant figure sculpture tradition, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community.

From the unexpected realism of his first major figure – inspired by his 1875 trip to Italy – to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, Rodin’s reputation grew, such that he became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist. Wealthy private clients sought Rodin’s work after his World’s Fair exhibit, and he kept company with a variety of high-profile intellectuals and artists. His sculptures suffered a decline in popularity after his death in 1917, but within a few decades, his legacy solidified. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.

Rodin was born in 1840 into a working-class family in Paris, the second child of Marie Cheffer and Jean-Baptiste Rodin, who was a police department clerk. He was largely self-educated, and began to draw at age ten. Between ages 14 and 17, Rodin attended the Petite École, a school specializing in art and mathematics, where he studied drawing and painting.

In 1857, Rodin submitted a clay model of a companion to the École des Beaux-Arts in an attempt to win entrance. But he did not succeed, and two further applications were also denied. Given that entrance requirements at the Grande École were not particularly high, the rejections were considerable setbacks. Rodin’s inability to gain entrance may have been due to the judges’ Neoclassical tastes, while Rodin had been schooled in light, 18th century sculpture. Leaving the Petite École in 1857, Rodin earned a living as a craftsman and ornamenter for most of the next two decades, producing decorative objects and architectural embellishments.

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In 1864, Rodin began to live with a young seamstress named Rose Beuret, with whom he would stay – with ranging commitment – for the rest of his life. The couple had a son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934). That year, Rodin offered his first sculpture for exhibition, and entered the studio of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a successful mass producer of objets d’art. Rodin worked as Carrier-Belleuse’ chief assistant until 1870, designing roof decorations and staircase and doorway embellishments. With the arrival of the Franco-Prussian War, Rodin was called to serve in the National Guard, but his service was brief due to his near-sightedness. Decorators’ work had dwindled because of the war, yet Rodin needed to support his family; poverty was a continual difficulty for Rodin until about the age of 30. Carrier-Belleuse soon asked Rodin to join him in Belgium, where they would work on ornamentation for Brussels’ bourse.

Rodin planned to stay in Belgium a few months, but he spent the next six years out of France. It was a pivotal time in his life. He had acquired skill and experience as a craftsman, but no one had yet seen his art, which sat in his workshop because he could not afford castings. Having saved enough money to travel, Rodin visited Italy for two months in 1875, where he was drawn to the work of Donatello and Michelangelo. Their work had a profound effect on his artistic direction. Rodin said, “It is Michelangelo who has freed me from academic sculpture.” Returning to Belgium, he began work on The Age of Bronze, a life-size male figure whose realism brought Rodin attention but led to accusations of sculptural cheating.

Rodin earned his living collaborating with more established sculptors on public commissions, primarily memorials and neo-baroque architectural pieces in the style of Carpeaux. In competitions for commissions he submitted models of Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Lazare Carnot, all to no avail. On his own time, he worked on studies leading to the creation of his next important work, St. John the Baptist Preaching.

In 1880, Carrier-Belleuse – now art director of the Sèvres national porcelain factory – gave Rodin a part-time position as a designer. That part of Rodin which appreciated 18th-century tastes was aroused, and he immersed himself in designs for vases and table ornaments that brought the factory renown across Europe. The artistic community appreciated his work in this vein, and Rodin was invited to Paris Salons by such friends as writer Léon Cladel. French statesman Leon Gambetta expressed a desire to meet Rodin, and the sculptor impressed him when they met at a salon. Gambetta spoke of Rodin in turn to several government ministers, likely including Edmund Turquet, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Fine Arts, whom Rodin eventually met.

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Rodin’s relationship with Turquet was rewarding: through him, he won the 1880 commission to create a portal for a planned museum of decorative arts. Rodin dedicated much of the next four decades to his elaborate Gates of Hell, an unfinished portal for a museum that was never built. Many of the portal’s figures became sculptures in themselves, including Rodin’s most famous, The Thinker and The Kiss. With the museum commission came a free studio, granting Rodin a new level of artistic freedom. Soon, he stopped working at the porcelain factory; his income coming from private commissions.

Although busy with The Gates of Hell, Rodin won other commissions. He pursued an opportunity to create an historical monument for the town of Calais, and was chosen for a monument to French author Honoré de Balzac in 1891. His execution of both sculptures clashed with traditional tastes, and met with varying degrees of disapproval from the organizations that sponsored the commissions. Still, Rodin was gaining support from diverse sources that propelled him toward fame.

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The Thinker (originally titled The Poet, after Dante) was to become one of the most well-known sculptures in the world. The original was a 27.5-inch (700 mm)-high bronze piece created between 1879 and 1889, designed for the Gates of Hell’s lintel, from which the figure would gaze down upon Hell. While The Thinker most obviously characterizes Dante, aspects of the Biblical Adam, the mythological Prometheus.

During the Hundred Years’ War, the army of King Edward III besieged Calais, and Edward ordered that the town’s population be killed en masse. He agreed to spare them if six of the principal citizens would come to him prepared to die, bareheaded and barefooted, and with ropes around their necks. When they came, he ordered that they be executed, but pardoned them when his queen, Philippa of Hainault, begged him to spare their lives. The Burghers of Calais depicts the men as they are leaving for the king’s camp, carrying keys to the town’s gates and citadel.

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Rodin began the project in 1884, inspired by the chronicles of the siege by Jean Froissart. Though the town envisioned an allegorical, heroic piece centered on Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the eldest of the six men, Rodin conceived the sculpture as a study in the varied and complex emotions under which all six men were laboring. One year into the commission, the Calais committee was not impressed with Rodin’s progress. Rodin indicated his willingness to end the project rather than change his design to meet the committee’s conservative expectations, but Calais said to continue.

In 1889, The Burghers of Calais was first displayed to general acclaim. It is a bronze sculpture weighing two tons (1,814 kg), and its figures are 6.6 ft (2 m) tall. The six men portrayed do not display a united, heroic front; rather, each is isolated from his companions, individually deliberating and struggling with his expected fate. Rodin soon proposed that the monument’s high pedestal be eliminated, wanting to move the sculpture to ground level so that viewers could “penetrate to the heart of the subject”. At ground level, the figures’ positions lead the viewer around the work, and subtly suggest their common movement forward.

The committee was incensed by the nontraditional proposal, but Rodin would not yield. In 1895, Calais succeeded in having Burghers displayed in their preferred form: the work was placed in front of a public garden on a high platform, surrounded by a cast-iron railing. Rodin had wanted it located near the town hall, where it would engage the public. Only after damage during the First World War, subsequent storage, and Rodin’s death was the sculpture displayed as he had intended. It is one of Rodin’s best-known and most acclaimed works.

Commissioned to create a monument to French writer Victor Hugo in 1889, Rodin dealt extensively with the subject of artist and muse. Like many of Rodin’s public commissions, Monument to Victor Hugo was met with resistance because it did not fit conventional expectations. Commenting on Rodin’s monument to Victor Hugo, The Times in 1909 expressed that “there is some show of reason in the complaint that [Rodin’s] conceptions are sometimes unsuited to his medium, and that in such cases they overstrain his vast technical powers”. The 1897 plaster model was not cast in bronze until 1964.

The popularity of Rodin’s most famous sculptures tends to obscure his total creative output. A prolific artist, he created thousands of busts, figures, and sculptural fragments over more than five decades. He painted in oils (especially in his thirties) and in watercolors. The Musée Rodin holds 7,000 of his drawings and prints, in chalk and charcoal, and thirteen drypoints. He also produced a single lithograph.

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Later, with his reputation established, Rodin made busts of prominent contemporaries such as English politician George Wyndham (1905), Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1906), Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (1909), former Argentinian president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and French statesman Georges Clemenceau (1911).

After the revitalization of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890, Rodin served as the body’s vice-president. In 1903, Rodin was elected president of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. He replaced its former president, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, upon Whistler’s death. His election to the prestigious position was largely due to the efforts of Albert Ludovici, father of English philosopher Anthony Ludovici, who was private secretary to Rodin for several months in 1906, but the two men parted company after Christmas, “to their mutual relief.”

During his later creative years, Rodin’s work turned increasingly toward the female form, and themes of more overt masculinity and femininity. He concentrated on small dance studies, and produced numerous erotic drawings, sketched in a loose way, without taking his pencil from the paper or his eyes from the model. Rodin met American dancer Isadora Duncan in 1900, attempted to seduce her, and the next year sketched studies of her and her students. In July 1906, Rodin was also enchanted by dancers from the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, and produced some of his most famous drawings from the experience.

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Fifty-three years into their relationship, Rodin married Rose Beuret. The wedding was 29 January 1917, and Beuret died two weeks later, on 16 February. Rodin was ill that year; in January, he suffered weakness from influenza, and on 16 November his physician announced that “congestion of the lungs has caused great weakness. The patient’s condition is grave.” Rodin died the next day, age 77, at his villa in Meudon, Île-de-France, on the outskirts of Paris.

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A cast of The Thinker was placed next to his tomb in Meudon; it was Rodin’s wish that the figure serve as his headstone and epitaph. In 1923, Marcell Tirel, Rodin’s secretary, published a book alleging that Rodin’s death was largely due to cold, and the fact that he had no heat at Meudon. Rodin requested permission to stay in the Hotel Biron, a museum of his works, but the director of the museum refused to let him stay there.

Rodin willed to the French state his studio and the right to make casts from his plasters. Because he encouraged the edition of his sculpted work, Rodin’s sculptures are represented in many public and private collections. The Musée Rodin was founded in 1916 and opened in 1919 at the Hôtel Biron, where Rodin had lived, and it holds the largest Rodin collection, with more than 6,000 sculptures and 7,000 works on paper.

I could probably dredge up for you a suitable Parisian recipe for you to celebrate Rodin, but I feel an inherent connexion between Rodin, decorative art, and cake making. So instead of a recipe I leave you with two images of wedding cakes using The Kiss as their motif. There’s also a certain ironic twist here in that Rodin had a relationship with the same woman – off and on – for decades and yet only married her weeks before her death.

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Jan 052015
 

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Twelfth Night is an old festival, in some Christian cultures (chiefly in Europe), more or less obsolete now, marking the coming of the Epiphany (6 January). It had its heyday from Regency to Victorian times in England. Different traditions mark the date of Twelfth Night on either 5th January or 6th January. The Church of England, Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, celebrates Twelfth Night on the ­­­­5th calling it the equivalent of the eve of Epiphany. In Western Church traditions the Twelfth Night concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas, although in others the Twelfth Night can precede the Twelfth Day. Generally speaking it’s a question of how you count the Twelve Days. In 567 the Council of Trent established the liturgical season of Christmas as lasting from Christmas Day to Epiphany, so many people assume that Epiphany is Twelfth Night. This cannot be correct unless you make 26 December the 1st day of Christmas. To put it bluntly, this is absurd. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas, so 5th January is the 12th day, and Epiphany comes next (see tomorrow’s post). In fact they are two quite distinct festivals although over time cultures have muddled them up. Nowadays if households celebrate the end of the Christmas season at all they do so on Epiphany and not Twelfth Night – hence the muddling of traditions. But a few communities have revived old customs although they have been modernized considerably. In London, for example, in several boroughs there are big parades, but they incorporate folk customs, such as morris dancing, that have nothing to do with Christmas.

A belief has arisen in more modern times, in some English-speaking countries, that it is unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night, a tradition originally attached to the festival of Candlemas (2 February) which was once the official end of the Christmas season. They took all the decorations down in my hostel today.

In medieval and Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve (Halloween). Usually it had an element of social inversion, in which the people of high social class adopted a low status and vice versa. Such customs generally disappeared around the time of the Industrial Revolution when they were conceived of as a threat to social order. Historically on Twelfth Night some method would be chosen to elect a Twelfth King. Commonly it was by drawing cards from a special deck which assigned various roles to guests – including king. The king ruled the feast until midnight and could order tomfoolery. In Regency and Victorian times the role was assigned by eating a cake that contained a bean and a pea. The cake was eaten at the start of the meal, and who got the bean was king and who got the pea was queen. There is reasonable evidence that such “elections” were rigged.

The major point of Twelfth Night is to go out of Christmas with a bang, so food and drink are central. Like Christmas, Twelfth Night gatherings tend to be home party affairs (with guests).

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In colonial America, a Christmas wreath was always left up on the front door of each home, and when taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, any edible portions would be eaten with the other foods of the feast. The same held true in the 19th and early 20th centuries with fruits adorning Christmas trees. Fresh fruits were hard to come by, and were therefore considered fine and proper gifts and decorations for the tree, wreaths, and home. Again, the tree would be taken down on Twelfth Night, and such fruits, along with nuts and other local produce used, would then be eaten.

In families who still celebrate Twelfth Night, all the remaining special foods such as Christmas puddings and mince pies must be eaten. My mother always made a Twelfth plate and I continue in the family custom. Here’s mine from 2 years ago.

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Drury Lane Theatre in London has had a tradition since 1795 of providing a Twelfth Night cake. The will of Robert Baddeley made a bequest of £100 to provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on 6 January. The tradition still continues now with a procession as well.

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William Shakespeare wrote the play Twelfth Night, around 1601 on royal request to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night, 2 February 1602. The play has many social elements that are reversed, in the tradition of Tudor Twelfth Night revels, such as a woman, Viola, dressing as a man, and a servant Malvolio imagining that he can become a nobleman. The wonderful element that few today know is that women in Shakespeare’s day were played by boys. So the part of Viola was a boy playing a woman pretending to be a man – being courted by Olivia, a woman being played by a boy. The complex sexual and social overtones would have been hilarious to contemporary audiences but are lost on modern audiences because the women’s parts are played by women.

Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness was performed on 6 January 1605 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was originally entitled The Twelvth Nights Revells. The accompanying Masque, The Masque of Beauty was performed in the same court the Sunday night after the Twelfth Night in 1608.

Robert Herrick’s poem “Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene,” published in 1648, describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of “lamb’s-wool”, a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not

Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.
Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol briefly mentions Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting a children’s Twelfth Night party.

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In Chapter 6 of Harrison Ainsworth’s 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, the eponymous hero is elected King of festivities at the Twelfth Night celebrations held in Tom Shakeshaft’s barn, by receiving the slice of plum cake containing the bean; his companion Cissy obtains the pea and becomes queen, and they are seated together in a high corner to view the proceedings. The distribution has been rigged to prevent another person gaining the role. The festivities include country dances, and the introduction of a “Fool Plough”, a plough decked with ribands brought into the barn by a dozen mummers together with a grotesque “Old Bessie” (played by a man) and a Fool dressed in animal skins with a fool’s hat. The mummers carry wooden swords and perform revelries. The scene in the novel is illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”). In the course of the evening, the fool’s antics cause a fight to break out, but Mervyn restores order. Three bowls of gin punch are disposed of, and at eleven o’clock the young men make the necessary arrangements to see the young ladies safely home across the fields.

Twelfth cake is the most important component of the dinner and in Victorian times turned into an elaborately decorated item as seen here:

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Nowadays the Twelfth cake, with the demise of Twelfth Night as a celebration, has metamorphosed into the Christmas cake (when once Christmas pudding was the key sweet element), and the bean/pea cake has become an Epiphany tradition. There is not a universally set way to make a Twelfth cake. The ornamentation plus bean/pea are common elements. I used to make a basic fruit cake, cover it with marzipan and royal icing, and then circle the fringes with 12 marzipan balls to signify the twelve days and with a bean embedded. No photos – sorry.

Here is the first known recipe for Twelfth cake taken from John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).  It makes a BIG cake.

Take seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.