Aug 212017
 

Today is the birthday (1765) of William IV, king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death in 1837.  William was the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV. He is often considered to be one of the dullest of the Hanoverian kings, yet a surprising number of pubs in England are named after him. The pub signs usually show him in naval uniform because he spent a good part of his life in the Royal Navy, and, thus, is usually nicknamed the Sailor King.

In 1789 William was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews. Since his two older brothers died without leaving legitimate issue, he inherited the throne when he was 64 years old. He also died without legitimate heirs, so the daughter of his deceased younger brother, Edward, became Queen Victoria on his death. She could not inherit the kingdom of Hanover as a woman, so William’s younger brother Ernest (who was junior to Victoria in the British succession) became king of Hanover while she continued the Hanoverian line in the U.K. Therefore, William was the last joint monarch of the United Kingdom and Hanover.

William mostly kept away from politics yet his reign saw several key reforms: the poor law was updated, child labor restricted, slavery abolished in nearly all of the British Empire, and the British electoral system refashioned by the Reform Act 1832 (which William did play a hand in). Although William did not engage in politics as much as his brother or his father, he was the last monarch to appoint a prime minister contrary to the will of Parliament. He also created a number of extra peers sympathetic to the Reform Act when it stumbled in the House of Lords and threatened to create more if they did not accede.

William spent most of his early life in Richmond and at Kew Palace, where he was educated by private tutors. At the age of 13, and because he was not expected ever to be king, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His experiences in the navy seem to have been little different from those of other midshipmen, though in contrast to other sailors he was accompanied on board ships by a tutor. He did his share of the cooking, and got arrested with his shipmates after a drunken brawl in Gibraltar, although he was hastily released from custody after his identity became known. He served in New York during the American War of Independence. While William was in North America, George Washington approved a plot to kidnap him, writing: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” The plot did not come to fruition; the British heard of it and assigned guards to William, who had up until then walked around New York unescorted.

He became a lieutenant in 1785 and captain of HMS Pegasus the following year (aged 20). In late 1786, he was stationed in the West Indies under (then-captain) Horatio Nelson, who wrote of William: “In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the [Naval] list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal.” The two were great friends, and dined together almost nightly. At Nelson’s wedding, William insisted on giving the bride away. He was given command of the frigate HMS Andromeda in 1788, and was promoted to rear-admiral in command of HMS Valiant the following year.

William sought to be made a duke like his elder brothers, and to receive a similar parliamentary grant, but his father was reluctant. To put pressure on him, William threatened to stand for the House of Commons for the constituency of Totnes in Devon. Appalled at the prospect of his son making his case to the voters, George III created him Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster on 16 May 1789, supposedly saying: “I well know it is another vote added to the Opposition.” William’s political record was inconsistent and, like many politicians of the time, cannot be certainly ascribed to a single party. He allied himself publicly with the Whigs as well as his elder brothers George, Prince of Wales, and Frederick, Duke of York, who were known to be in conflict with the political positions of their father.

William ceased his active service in the Royal Navy in 1790. When Britain declared war on France in 1793, he was anxious to serve his country and expected a command, but was not given a ship, perhaps at first because he had broken his arm by falling down some stairs drunk, but later perhaps because he gave a speech in the House of Lords opposing the war. The following year he spoke in favor of the war, expecting a command after his change of heart; none came. The Admiralty did not reply to his request. He did not lose hope of being appointed to an active post (but his rank of admiral was purely nominal at that time). Despite repeated petitions, he was never given a command throughout the Napoleonic Wars. In 1811, he was appointed to the honorary position of Admiral of the Fleet (usually reserved for distinguished officers in retirement). In 1813, he came nearest to any actual fighting, when he visited the British troops fighting in the Low Countries. Watching the bombardment of Antwerp from a church steeple, he came under fire, and a bullet pierced his coat.

Instead of serving at sea, he spent time in the House of Lords, where he spoke in opposition to the abolition of slavery, which although not legal in the United Kingdom still existed in the British colonies. Freedom would do the slaves little good, he argued. He had travelled widely and, in his eyes, the living standard among freemen in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was worse than that among slaves in the West Indies.

From 1791 William lived with an Irish actress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs. Jordan, the title “Mrs.” being assumed at the start of her stage career to explain an inconvenient pregnancy and “Jordan” because she had “crossed the water” from Ireland to Britain. William was part of the first generation to grow to maturity under the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which forbade descendants of George II from marrying unless they either obtained the monarch’s consent or, if over the age of 25, gave twelve months’ notice to the Privy Council. Several of George III’s sons, including William, chose to cohabit with the women they loved, rather than seek a wife. Having legitimate issue was not a primary concern for William. Because he was one of the younger sons of George III, he was not expected to figure in the succession, which was considered secure once the Prince of Wales married and had a daughter, Princess Charlotte, second-in-line to the throne. She died later giving birth however.

William appeared to enjoy the domesticity of his life with Mrs. Jordan, remarking to a friend: “Mrs. Jordan is a very good creature, very domestic and careful of her children. To be sure she is absurd sometimes and has her humours. But there are such things more or less in all families.” The couple, while living quietly, enjoyed entertaining, with Mrs. Jordan writing in late 1809: “We shall have a full and merry house this Christmas, ’tis what the dear Duke delights in.” The couple had ten illegitimate children—five sons and five daughters—nine of whom were named after William’s siblings, each given the surname FitzClarence (child of Clarence). Their affair lasted for twenty years before ending in 1811.

In 1818 William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the daughter of George I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. At 25, Adelaide was half William’s age. Their marriage, which lasted almost twenty years until William’s death, was a happy one. For their first year of marriage, the couple lived in economical fashion in Germany. The couple had two short-lived daughters and Adelaide suffered three miscarriages. The city of Adelaide, capital of South Australia planned in 1837, was named for her when she was queen, and the main street, a wide boulevard running down the center was named King William Street.

William’s elder brother, the Prince of Wales, had been Prince Regent since 1811 because of the mental illness of their father, George III. In 1820, the King died, leaving the Crown to the Prince Regent, who became George IV. William, Duke of Clarence, was now second in the line of succession, preceded only by his brother, Frederick, Duke of York. Reformed since his marriage, William walked for hours, ate relatively frugally, and drank only barley water flavored with lemon. Both of his older brothers were unhealthy, and it was considered only a matter of time before he became king. When the Duke of York died in 1827, William, then more than 60 years old, became heir presumptive. Later that year, the incoming Prime Minister, George Canning, appointed him to the office of Lord High Admiral, which had been in commission (that is, exercised by a board rather than by a single individual) since 1709. While in office, William had repeated conflicts with his Council, which was composed of Admiralty officers. Things finally came to a head in 1828 when, as Lord High Admiral, he put to sea with a squadron of ships, leaving no word of where they were going, remaining away for ten days. The King, through the Prime Minister, by now Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, requested his resignation and he complied.

Despite the difficulties William experienced, he did considerable good as Lord High Admiral. He abolished the cat o’ nine tails for most offenses other than mutiny, attempted to improve the standard of naval gunnery and required regular reports of the condition and preparedness of each ship. He commissioned the first steam warship and advocated more.

When King George IV died on 26 June 1830 without surviving legitimate issue, William succeeded him as King William IV. Aged 64, he was the oldest person yet to assume the British throne.] Unlike his extravagant brother, William was unassuming, discouraging pomp and ceremony. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. Until the Reform Crisis eroded his standing, he was very popular among the people, who saw him as more approachable and down-to-earth than his brother.

The King did his best to endear himself to the people. Charlotte Williams-Wynn wrote shortly after his accession: “Hitherto the King has been indefatigable in his efforts to make himself popular, and do good natured and amiable things in every possible instance.” Emily Eden noted: “He is an immense improvement on the last unforgiving animal, who died growling sulkily in his den at Windsor. This man at least wishes to make everybody happy, and everything he has done has been benevolent.”

William dismissed his brother’s French chefs and German band, replacing them with English ones to public approval. He gave much of George IV’s art collection to the nation, and halved the royal stud. George IV had begun an extensive (and expensive) renovation of Buckingham Palace but William refused to live there, and twice tried to give the palace away, once to the Army as a barracks, and once to Parliament after the Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834. His informality could be startling and, certainly, against norms of the age. When in residence at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, William used to send to the hotels for a list of their guests and invite anyone he knew to dinner, urging guests not to “bother about clothes. The Queen does nothing but embroider flowers after dinner.”

In William’s day, eating out at taverns was popular which may be a partial explanation of why so many pubs are named after him. Some tavern chefs at the end of the 18th century produced cookbooks, notably, The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper by Francis Collingwood, John Woollams. You can browse it in the original here:

https://books.google.com.mm/books?id=xJMEAAAAYAAJ&dq=old+syllabub&pg=PA214&ci=121,727,766,235&source=bookclip&redir_esc=y&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

By modern standards Collingwood and Woollams cooked vegetables too much as in the recipe for a ragout of celery:

To ragoo Celery

CUT the white part of the celery into lengths and boil it till it is tender. Then fry and drain it, flour it and put to it some rich gravy, a very little red wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg and catchup. Give it a boil and then send it up to table.

The “catchup” here would be a fermented mushroom ketchup which you can get a version of today in some supermarkets. I think this would be all right if the celery were no more than blanched in boiling water first then fried quickly. The point of flouring the celery after frying is to thicken the gravy.

The following recipe appeals to me more: battered, deep-fried celery.

To fry celery

FIRST boil it, then dip it into batter, then fry it of a light brown in hog’s lard. Put it on a plate, and pour melted butter over it.

Oct 262016
 

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The Erie Canal opened on this date in 1825 with New York governor DeWitt Clinton of New York pouring a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean. Originally the canal ran about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

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The men who planned and oversaw construction were novices as surveyors and as engineers. James Geddes and Benjamin Wright, who laid out the route, were judges whose experience in surveying was in settling boundary disputes. Geddes had only used a surveying instrument for a few hours before his work on the Canal.[16] Canvass White was a 27-year-old amateur engineer who persuaded New York Governor DeWitt Clinton to let him go to Britain at his own expense to study the canal system there. Nathan Roberts was a mathematics teacher and land speculator. Somehow these amateurs built a massive canal that overcame enormous obstacles of engineering, learning as they went.

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Construction began July 4, 1817, at Rome, New York. The first 15 miles (24 km), from Rome to Utica, opened in 1819. At that rate the canal would have taken 30 years to complete. The main hold-ups were felling trees to clear a path through virgin forest and moving excavated soil, which took longer than expected, but the builders devised ways to solve these problems. To fell a tree, they threw rope over the top branches and winched it down. Soil to be moved was shoveled into large wheelbarrows that were dumped into mule-pulled carts. Using a scraper and a plow, a three-man team with oxen, horses, and mules could clear a mile in a year.

The remaining problem was finding labor, and increased immigration helped fill the need. Many of the laborers working on the canal were Scots Irish, who had recently arrived in the United States as a group of about 5,000 from Northern Ireland, most of whom were Protestants who had enough money to pay for their own transportation. However, Irish immigrants were usually assumed to be Catholic, and many laborers on the canal suffered violent assault as the result of misjudgment and xenophobia.

Construction continued at an increased rate as new workers arrived. When the canal reached Montezuma Marsh (at the outlet of Cayuga Lake west of Syracuse), it was rumored over 1,000 workers died of “swamp fever” (malaria), and construction was temporarily stopped. However, recent research has revealed the death toll was likely much lower, as no contemporary reports mention significant worker mortality, and mass graves from the period have never been found in the area. Work continued on the downhill side towards the Hudson, and when the marsh froze in winter, the crews worked to complete the section across the swamps.

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The middle section from Utica to Salina (Syracuse) was completed in 1820, and traffic on that section started up immediately. Expansion to the east and west proceeded, and the whole eastern section, 250 miles (400 km) from Brockport to Albany, opened on September 10, 1823 to great fanfare. The Champlain Canal, a separate but interconnected 64-mile (103 km) north-south route from Watervliet on the Hudson to Lake Champlain, opened on the same date.

After Montezuma Marsh, the next difficulties were crossing Irondequoit Creek and the Genesee River near Rochester. The first ultimately required building the 1,320-foot (400 m) long “Great Embankment” which carried the canal at a height of 76 feet (23 m) above the level of the creek, which was carried through a 245-foot (75 m) culvert underneath. The river was crossed on a stone aqueduct 802 feet (244 m) long and 17 feet (5.2 m) wide, with 11 arches.

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After the Genesee, the next obstacle was crossing the Niagara Escarpment, an 80-foot (24 m) wall of hard dolomitic limestone, to rise to the level of Lake Erie. The route followed the channel of a creek that had cut a ravine steeply down the escarpment, with two sets of five locks in a series, soon giving rise to the community of Lockport. The 12-foot (3.7 m) lift-locks had a total lift of 60 feet (18 m), exiting into a deeply cut channel. The final leg had to be cut 30 feet (9.1 m) through another limestone layer, the Onondaga ridge. Much of that section was blasted with black powder, and the inexperience of the crews often led to accidents, and sometimes rocks falling on nearby homes.

ErieCanal_MP

The Erie Canal had a huge economic and cultural impact from the outset. It greatly lowered the cost of shipping between the Midwest and the Northeast, bringing much lower food costs to Eastern cities and allowing the East to ship machinery and manufactured goods economically to the Midwest. The canal also made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of New York City, Buffalo, and New York State. Its impact went much further, increasing trade throughout the nation by opening eastern and overseas markets to Midwestern farm products and by enabling migration to the West.

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The Erie Canal was an immediate financial success. Tolls collected on freight had already exceeded the state’s construction debt in its first year of official operation. By 1828, import duties collected at the New York Customs House supported federal government operations and provided funds for all the expenses in Washington except the interest on the national debt. Additionally, New York state’s initial loan for the original canal had been paid by 1837. Although it had been envisioned as primarily a commercial channel for freight boats, passengers also traveled on the canal’s packet boats. In 1825 more than forty thousand passengers took advantage of the convenience and beauty of canal travel. The canal’s steady flow of tourists, business people, and settlers lent it to uses never imagined by its initial sponsors. Evangelical preachers made their circuits of the upstate region and the canal served as the last leg of the underground railroad ferrying runaway slaves to Buffalo near the Canada–US border. Aspiring merchants found that tourists proved to double as reliable customers. Vendors moved from boat to boat peddling items such as books, watches, and fruit while less scrupulous operators sold patent medicines or passed off counterfeit money. Tourists were carried along the “northern tour,” which ultimately led to Niagara Falls, just north of Buffalo, becoming a popular honeymoon destination. In fact, my wife and I spent our honeymoon there in 1986.

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Two villages competed to be the terminus: Black Rock, on the Niagara River, and Buffalo, at the eastern tip of Lake Erie. Buffalo expended great energy to widen and deepen Buffalo Creek to make it navigable and to create a harbor at its mouth. Buffalo won over Black Rock, and grew into a large city, eventually encompassing its former competitor.

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Since Buffalo is the terminus of the Erie, Buffalo wings have to be the celebratory dish – the first dish my wife and I had on our honeymoon. At the time we had never heard of them because they were not anywhere near as popular or as widespread as they are now. There are several different claims about how Buffalo wings were invented. One of the more prevalent claims is that Buffalo wings were first prepared at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo by Teressa Bellissimo, who owned the bar with husband Frank. Several versions of the story have been circulated by the Bellissimo family and others:

  1. Upon the unannounced, late-night arrival of their son, Dominic, with several of his friends from college, Teressa needed a fast and easy snack to present to her guests. It was then that she came up with the idea of deep frying chicken wings (normally thrown away or reserved for stock) and tossing them in cayenne hot sauce.
  2. Dominic Bellissimo told The New Yorker food writer, Calvin Trillin, in 1980, “It was Friday night in the bar and since people were buying a lot of drinks he wanted to do something nice for them at midnight when the mostly Catholic patrons would be able to eat meat again.” He said that it was his mother, Teressa, who came up with the idea of chicken wings.

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Cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and melted butter are the basis of the sauce, which may be mild, medium, or hot. Typically, the wings are deep-fried in oil (although they are sometimes grilled or baked) until they are well browned. They are then drained, mixed with sauce, and shaken to coat the wings, completely covering them in the sauce. To cover the wings completely you should place the cooked wings and sauce in a lidded contained, close it up and shake vigorously until the wings are coated on all sides. Originally Buffalo wings were served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. This may seem like a strange combination, but the first time I had it I was a convert. Who knows what the actual story of the origin of Buffalo wings is, but putting together chicken wings, hot sauce, celery, and blue cheese sure seems like a last minute emergency dish made late at night from what odds and ends happen to be around. It’s a winner in my book.