May 052019
 

Tango no Sekku (端午の節句), also known as Ayame no hi (Iris festival), is one of the five annual ceremonies that were traditionally held at the Japanese imperial court called Gosekku. It is the Japanese version of Double Fifth (5-5) and was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon in the lunar calendar or Chinese calendar. After Japan switched to the Gregorian calendar, the date was moved to May 5th. The festival is still celebrated in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as the Duanwu Festival or Tuen Ng Festival (Cantonese), in Korea as the Dano Festival, and Vietnam as the Tết Đoan Ngọ on the traditional lunar calendar date.

Tan (端) means “beginning” and go (午) is a simplified form of ⾺ (horse), referring to the Chinese zodiac name for the fifth lunar month. Days of the week also have zodiac animals. Thus, tango originally meant “the first horse day of the fifth month”. However, go is a homonym for 五 (five) in Japanese, so during the Nara period the meaning shifted to become the fifth day of the fifth month. Sekku means a seasonal festival involving doubles of date and month. There are five sekku, including O-Shogatsu (January 1), Hina Matsuri (March 3), Tanabata (July 7) and Kiku Matsuri (September 9th) along with Tango. Tango no Sekku marks the beginning of summer or the rainy season.

Although it is not known precisely when this day started to be celebrated, it was probably during the reign of the empress Suiko (593BCE –628 CE). In Japan, Tango no Sekku was assigned to the fifth day of the fifth month after the Nara period (8th century CE).

Until recently, Tango no Sekku was known as Boys’ Day (also known as Feast of Banners) while Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) was celebrated on March 3. In 1948, the government decreed this day to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude toward mothers. It was renamed Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) and changed to include both boys and girls. Before this day, families raise the carp-shaped koinobori flags (carp because of the Chinese legend that a carp that swims upstream becomes a dragon, and the way the flags blow in the wind looks like they are swimming). Displays include a flag for each boy (or child), a Kintarō doll usually riding on a large carp, and the traditional Japanese military helmet, kabuto. Kintarō and the kabuto are symbols of a strong and healthy boy.

Kintarō (金太郎) is the childhood name of Sakata no Kintoki who was a hero in the Heian period, a subordinate samurai of Minamoto no Raikou, having been famous for his strength when he was a child. It is said that Kintarō rode a bear, instead of a horse, and played with animals in the mountains when he was a young boy.

Mochi rice cakes wrapped in kashiwa (oak) leaves—kashiwa-mochi (mochi filled with red bean jam) and chimaki (a kind of “sweet rice paste”, wrapped in an iris or bamboo leaf)—are traditionally served on this day. The pounding process of making mochi originates from China, where glutinous rice has been grown and used for thousands of years. According to folklore, the first mochitsuki ceremony occurred after the Kami are said to have descended to Earth, which was following the birth of rice cultivation in Yamato during the Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE). Red rice was the original variation used in the production of mochi. At this time, it was eaten exclusively by the emperor and nobles due to its status as an omen of good fortune. During the Japanese Heian period (794–1192), mochi was used as a “food for the gods” and in religious offerings in Shinto rituals performed by aristocrats. In addition to general good fortune, mochi was also known as a talisman for happy marriages. Here is a modern video of the pounding process as well as making of various styles of mochi:

 

Mar 172018
 

Today is the birthday (1846) of Catherine “Kate” Greenaway, a Victorian children’s book illustrator and writer whose work influenced the children’s dress styles of the day. She is part of what is called The Golden Age of Book Illustration which actually covers a huge raft of styles and techniques.

Kate Greenaway was born in Hoxton, London, the second of four children. Her mother, Elizabeth Greenaway, was a dressmaker and her father, John Greenaway, was a wood engraver, whose business failed when he took a commission to engrave illustrations for Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers from a publisher who went bankrupt. As a young girl Kate lived with relatives in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire. John wanted to work without interruption on the Dickens engravings and sent the entire family away for about two years, a period that for Kate, according to children’s literature scholar Humphrey Carpenter “was crucial … she felt it to be her real home, a country of the mind that she could always reimagine.”

John Greenaway

On the return of his wife and children the family moved to Islington, living in the flat above a millinery shop Elizabeth Greenaway opened to provide an income. There was a garden outside the building, which Greenaway wrote about in letters and an unfinished autobiography in the 1880s, describing it as place with “richness of colour and depth of shade.” Her father took on work for The Illustrated London News, often bringing home the wood blocks to carve during the night. Kate was interested in her father’s work, and through him was exposed to the work of John Leech, John Gilbert and Kenny Meadows.

As a young child Kate was educated at home and also sent to series of dame schools. When she was about 12 she began formal art education when enrolling in the National Course of Art instruction,[5] first at Finsbury School of Art and later at the South Kensington School of Art headed by Richard Burchett. The curriculum was design-based with a focus on technical skills, with emphasis on geometric and botanical designs to create patterns for architectural elements such as decorative wallpapers and tiles. She completed the five stages of ornamental courses in one year and the ten stages of the drawing courses with similar speed. In 1864, she completed the final course, “Elementary Design,” winning a national bronze medal for her designs. Later awards included a national silver medal in 1869 for a set of geometric and floral decorative tiles.

She later attended the Royal Female School of Art. With classmate Elizabeth Thompson, Greenaway augmented her studies by learning to draw the human figure from life and the two women rented a studio in South Kensington for a year for this purpose. At the school she did have the opportunity to work from models dressed in historical or ornamental costumes but she continued to be frustrated that nude models were not permitted in the women’s classes. Later she enrolled in night classes at Heatherley School of Fine Art where she met Edward Burne-Jones, Edward Poynter and Walter Crane and in 1871 she enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art.

By 1867 she began to receive commissions, in part the result of the national awards she received and in part because of exposure at exhibitions. The publisher of People’s Magazine, W. J. Loftie purchased a set of six watercolours Greenaway exhibited in 1868, printing them in the magazine set to verse written by his contributors. A year later Frederick Warne & Co purchased six illustrations for a toy book edition of Diamonds and Toads.

Her first book, Under the Window (1879), a collection of simple verses about children, was a bestseller. As well as illustrating books Greenaway produced a number of bookplates. Greenaway was elected to membership of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1889.

She lived in an Arts and Crafts style house she commissioned from Richard Norman Shaw in Frognal, London, although she spent summers in Rolleston. Here’s a gallery:

Greenaway died of breast cancer in 1901, at the age of 55. She is buried in Hampstead Cemetery, London.

Greenaway’s paintings were reproduced by chromoxylography, by which the colors were printed from hand-engraved wood blocks by the firm of Edmund Evans. Through the 1880s and 1890s, her only rivals in popularity in children’s book illustration were Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott. “Kate Greenaway children” were dressed in her own versions of late 18th century and Regency fashions: smock-frocks and skeleton suits for boys, high-waisted pinafores and dresses with mobcaps and straw bonnets for girls. Liberty of London adapted Kate Greenaway’s drawings as designs for actual children’s clothes. A full generation of mothers in the liberal-minded “artistic” British circles who called themselves The Souls and embraced the Arts and Crafts movement dressed their daughters in Kate Greenaway pantaloons and bonnets in the 1880s and 1890s.

We have to go with apple pie to celebrate Kate Greenaway, and Mrs Beeton has to be our guide. I have given modern recipes for apple pie in other posts, but this one works fine. Adding beer or sherry to the apples would work fine as long as you pick the right ones. A dark or amber ale would be all right. I would use a dry sherry rather than a sweet one. Then again, I would prefer brandy.

APPLE TART OR PIE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Puff-paste No. 1205 or 1206, apples; to every lb. of unpared apples allow 2 oz. of moist sugar, 1/2 teaspoonful of finely-minced lemon-peel, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice.

Mode.—Make 1/2 lb. of puff-paste by either of the above-named recipes, place a border of it round the edge of a pie-dish, and fill it with apples pared, cored, and cut into slices; sweeten with moist sugar, add the lemon-peel and juice, and 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of water; cover with crust, cut it evenly round close to the edge of the pie-dish, and bake in a hot oven from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, or rather longer, should the pie be very large. When it is three-parts done, take it out of the oven, put the white of an egg on a plate, and, with the blade of a knife, whisk it to a froth; brush the pie over with this, then sprinkle upon it some sifted sugar, and then a few drops of water. Put the pie back into the oven, and finish baking, and be particularly careful that it does not catch or burn, which it is very liable to do after the crust is iced. If made with a plain crust, the icing may be omitted.

Time.—1/2 hour before the crust is iced; 10 to 15 minutes afterwards.

Average cost, 9d.

Sufficient.—Allow 2 lbs. of apples for a tart for 6 persons.

Seasonable from August to March; but the apples become flavourless after February.

Note.—Many things are suggested for the flavouring of apple pie; some say 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of beer, others the same quantity of sherry, which very much improve the taste; whilst the old-fashioned addition of a few cloves is, by many persons, preferred to anything else, as also a few slices of quince.

VERY GOOD PUFF-PASTE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of flour allow 1 lb. of butter, and not quite 1/2 pint of water.

Mode.—Carefully weigh the flour and butter, and have the exact proportion; squeeze the butter well, to extract the water from it, and afterwards wring it in a clean cloth, that no moisture may remain. Sift the flour; see that it is perfectly dry, and proceed in the following manner to make the paste, using a very clean paste-board and rolling-pin:—Supposing the quantity to be 1 lb. of flour, work the whole into a smooth paste, with not quite 1/2 pint of water, using a knife to mix it with: the proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the discretion of the cook; if too much be added, the paste, when baked, will be tough. Roll it out until it is of an equal thickness of about an inch; break 4 oz. of the butter into small pieces; place these on the paste, sift over it a little flour, fold it over, roll out again, and put another 4 oz. of butter. Repeat the rolling and buttering until the paste has been rolled out 4 times, or equal quantities of flour and butter have been used. Do not omit, every time the paste is rolled out, to dredge a little flour over that and the rolling-pin, to prevent both from sticking. Handle the paste as lightly as possible, and do not press heavily upon it with the rolling-pin. The next thing to be considered is the oven, as the baking of pastry requires particular attention. Do not put it into the oven until it is sufficiently hot to raise the paste; for the best-prepared paste, if not properly baked, will be good for nothing. Brushing the paste as often as rolled out, and the pieces of butter placed thereon, with the white of an egg, assists it to rise in leaves or flakes. As this is the great beauty of puff-paste, it is as well to try this method.

Average cost, 1s. 4d. per lb.

BUTTER.—About the second century of the Christian era, butter was placed by Galen amongst the useful medical agents; and about a century before him, Dioscorides mentioned that he had noticed that fresh butter, made of ewes’ and goats’ milk, was served at meals instead of oil, and that it took the place of fat in making pastry. Thus we have undoubted authority that, eighteen hundred years ago, there existed a knowledge of the useful qualities of butter. The Romans seem to have set about making it much as we do; for Pliny tells us, “Butter is made from milk; and the use of this element, so much sought after by barbarous nations, distinguished the rich from the common people. It is obtained principally from cows’ milk; that from ewes is the fattest; goats also supply some. It is produced by agitating the milk in long vessels with narrow openings: a little water is added.”

MEDIUM PUFF-PASTE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of flour allow 8 oz. of butter, 4 oz. of lard, not quite 1/2 pint of water.

Mode.—This paste may be made by the directions in the preceding recipe, only using less butter and substituting lard for a portion of it. Mix the flour to a smooth paste with not quite 1/2 pint of water; then roll it out 3 times, the first time covering the paste with butter, the second with lard, and the third with butter. Keep the rolling-pin and paste slightly dredged with flour, to prevent them from sticking, and it will be ready for use.

Average cost, 1s. per lb.

BUTTER IN HASTE.—In his “History of Food,” Soyer says that to obtain butter instantly, it is only necessary, in summer, to put new milk into a bottle, some hours after it has been taken from the cow, and shake it briskly. The clots which are thus formed should be thrown into a sieve, washed and pressed together, and they constitute the finest and most delicate butter that can possibly be made.

May 172013
 

Norway
The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814 when Norway was handed over by Denmark to the Swedish king (not the Swedish government) . The new constitution declared Norway to be an independent nation, but it was soon occupied by Sweden. However, the nation was allowed to retain its own parliament.  Very early on, demonstrations were held on Constitution Day protesting the rule of the Swedish king. So in 1828 king Karl Johan banned all celebration on that day.  The following year by one of those odd historical coincidences, the Norwegian steamer Constitutionen, source of much national pride, was due to dock in Christiania (now Oslo) on May 17.  A large crowd gathered to greet the ship and began singing nationalist songs after a college student, Henrik Wergeland, shouted “Long Live the Constitution” (and for which he became a national hero).  They then moved into the main square and remained there all evening.  The police attempted to disperse the crowd with no success, so the cavalry was called out and began attacking the crowd on horseback with the flats of their swords or running them down.  Later the light infantry joined the cavalry and began beating people with their rifles. What became known as The Battle of the Square raised such a furor throughout Norway that the king was forced to cancel his ban.

It was not until 1864, however, that the celebrations took on their current form when a children’s parade of all boys was organized.  (It was not until 1899 that girls were allowed to join the parade.) To this day the main public event in towns across Norway is the children’s parade, partly in honor of Henrik Wergeland who is venerated by Norwegian school children.

Each elementary school district arranges its own parade with marching bands for each school. The parade takes the children through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens, war memorials, and other significant locations. The longest parade is in Oslo which includes around 100 schools. It passes the royal palace where the royal family greet the people from the main balcony. Typically a school’s children’s parade consists of some senior school children carrying the school’s official banner, followed by a handful of older children carrying full sized Norwegian flags, and the school’s marching band. After the band, the rest of the school children follow with hand sized flags, usually in order of grades, youngest first. Patriotic speeches begin and end the parades, but there is a complete absence of militarism.

Lefse is a traditional soft, Norwegian flatbread made of potato, cream and flour, and cooked on a special griddle for festive days. Special tools are employed to cook lefse, including long wooden lefse sticks for turning the lefse as they cook, and special rolling pins with deep grooves. There is considerable regional variation in ingredients and cooking methods of lefse, as well as diverse ways of serving it.  It can be eaten spread with butter(or butter and sugar) and rolled up, or sweetened with jelly. Sugar and cinnamon is also common. Of course, it can accompany meat dishes and stews. It is a must when eating lutefisk, the Scandinavian pungent dish of white fish cured in lye.  The recipe I give here makes 100 lefse, but it can easily be cut in halves or quarters.

Lefse

Ingredients:

10 pounds Russet/Burbank or Russet potatoes (only use Russets).
1 pound butter
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
6 cups all purpose flour

Peel, boil, drain, rice, and mash the potatoes. Don’t let the potatoes overcook because they will absorb too much liquid, and water is lefse’s great enemy.

Add the butter, whipping cream, salt and sugar and whip until no lumps remain. Turn into a large bowl, smooth the top and cool, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight. This helps the potatoes dry further.

Next day, preheat a lefse grill to 500°F without grease. These grills are round and flat.  A large cast iron skillet makes a reasonable substitute and you can use an oven thermometer to gauge the temperature roughly. You may have to experiment with one or two lefse to get the temperature right. Modern lefse grills are electric with a built in thermostat.

Place a large plastic bag on the counter and lay a kitchen towel on top – you will stack the cooked lefse on one end and fold the towel and plastic over. The towel absorbs moisture; the plastic keeps it just moist enough.

Make a rolling surface out of a cloth-covered pastry board and rub flour well into a sock-covered rolling pin (substitute for a lefse pin), and the rolling surface.

Cut the cold mashed potato mixture into quarters. Place one quarter into a bowl and put the rest back into the refrigerator.

Working with one quarter at a time, mix in 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Using your hands, mix the flour into the potato until it is well blended. Once you add flour to the potatoes, you are committed to that batch of dough. Work quickly because if you let it stand too long it will get soft and sticky. (You can keep the remaining 3 quarters in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 to 48 hours.)

Scoop out a portion about the size of a golf ball and form quickly into a ball. Dust the ball with flour and flatten it.

Place the flattened ball on to the floured, cloth-covered pastry board, and with the floured sock-covered rolling pin, roll the dough out evenly into a large circle about 1/8 inch thickness. It is important to use plenty of flour at first. Wet spots can become a problem. If you do get a wet spot, rub flour into it and scrape it carefully to remove as much of the wet spot as possible.

Using a lefse stick (you can use a long chopstick or the rolling pin), transfer the round onto the heated grill or skillet. The lefse will begin to bubble. Peek at the grilled side until it has light brown spots. Slide the stick under it (or use a spatula) and carefully flip it over.

If the edges of the lefse begin to get dry, brown, and curl, you are grilling them too long. If it is not browning well, but remains light, your grill temperature is too low.

Stack the cooked rounds one on top of the other and cover with the towel and plastic. You’ll need a towel and plastic for each quarter of the dough.

Cool 4 to 5 hours and keep covered until ready to serve. The cooked lefse can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, folded in quarters, 10 at a time, in ziplok bags. They also freeze well.

Yield: about 100 lefse