Jan 202018
 

On this date in 1265 Simon de Montfort called a parliament that, for the first time in English history, included commoners as well as nobles. Many historians date the formation of the House of Commons from this moment.  Things are a lot murkier than that, of course. Historians can be a bit over the top from time to time. Nonetheless, it was a significant turning point in the way that English kings viewed their subjects, and de Montfort is often spoken of as the founder of the House of Commons, even though that’s a bit of a stretch. Prior to de Montfort’s parliament, the nobility ruled their lands without any concern for the opinions or desires of the common people. Over the centuries, the situation completely reversed itself – but it took time.

Henry III

In 1258, Henry III of England faced a revolt among the English barons. Anger had grown about the way the king’s officials were raising funds, the influence of his Poitevin relatives at court (bloody foreigners !!), and his unpopular Sicilian policy (he wanted to control the kingdom as a gift for his son, Edmund). Even the English Church had grievances over its treatment by Henry. Within Henry’s court there was a strong feeling that the king would be unable to lead the country through these problems. On 30 April, Hugh Bigod marched into Westminster in the middle of the king’s parliament, backed by his co-conspirators, including Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and carried out a coup d’état. Henry, fearful that he was about to be arrested and imprisoned, agreed to abandon his policy of personal rule and instead govern through a council of 24 barons and churchmen, half chosen by the king and half by the barons.

The pressure for reform continued to grow unabated and a parliament met in June. The term “parliament” had first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree upon the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the king’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties had begun to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons – but they were still nobles.

The new parliament passed a set of measures known as the Provisions of Oxford, which Henry swore to uphold. These provisions created a smaller council of 15 members, elected solely by the barons, which then had the power to appoint England’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer, and which would be monitored through triennial parliaments. Pressure from the lesser barons and the gentry present at Oxford also helped to push through wider reform, intended to limit the abuse of power by both the king’s officials and the major barons. More radical measures were passed by the new council the next year, in the form of the Provisions of Westminster.

The disagreements between the leading barons involved in the revolt soon became evident. De Montfort championed radical reforms that would place further limitations on the authority and power of the major barons as well as the Crown. Others promoted only moderate change, while the conservative barons expressed concerns about the existing limitations on the king’s powers. Over the next 4 years, neither Henry nor the barons were able to restore stability in England, and power swung back and forth between the different factions. By early 1263, what remained of Henry’s authority had disintegrated and the country slipped back towards open civil war. De Montfort convened a council of rebel barons in Oxford to pursue his radical agenda and by October, England faced a likely civil war. De Montfort marched east with an army and London rose up in revolt. De Montfort took Henry and Queen Eleanor prisoner, and although he maintained a fiction of ruling in Henry’s name, the rebels completely replaced the royal government and household with their own, trusted men.

Simon de Montfort

De Montfort’s coalition began to fragment quickly. Henry regained his freedom of movement, and renewed chaos spread across England. Henry appealed to his brother-in-law Louis IX of France for arbitration in the dispute. De Montfort was initially hostile to this idea, but, as war became more likely again, he decided to agree to French arbitration as well. Initially de Montfort’s legal arguments held sway, but in January 1264, Louis announced the Mise of Amiens, condemning the rebels, upholding the king’s rights and annulling the Provisions of Oxford. The Second Barons’ War finally broke out in April, when Henry led an army into de Montfort’s territories. Becoming desperate, Montfort marched in pursuit of Henry and the two armies met at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May. Despite their numerical superiority, Henry’s forces were overwhelmed. Captured, Henry was forced to pardon the rebel barons and reinstate the Provisions of Oxford, leaving him a figurehead only.

Simon de Montfort claimed to be ruling in the king’s name through a council of officials. However, he had effective political control over the government even though he was not himself the monarch, the first time this had happened in English history. De Montfort successfully held a parliament in London in June 1264 to confirm new constitutional arrangements for England; four knights were summoned from each county, chosen by the county court, and were allowed to comment on general matters of state – the first time this had occurred. De Montfort was unable to consolidate his victory at Lewes, however, and widespread disorder persisted across the country. In France, Eleanor made plans for an invasion of England with the support of Louis.

In response, and hoping to win wider support for his government, de Montfort summoned a new parliament for 20th January 1265 which continued until mid-March that year. It was held at short notice, with the summons being issued on 14th December, leaving little time for attendees to respond. He summoned not only the barons, senior churchmen and two knights from each county, but also two burgesses from each of the major towns such as York, Lincoln, Sandwich, and the Cinque Ports, the first time this had been done. Due to the lack of support for de Montfort among the barons, only 23 of them were summoned to parliament, in comparison to the summons issued to 120 churchmen, who largely supported the new government. It is unknown how many burgesses were called. The event was overseen by king Henry, and held in the Palace of Westminster in London, the largest city in England, whose continuing loyalty was essential to de Montfort’s cause.

This parliament was a populist, tactical move by de Montfort in an attempt to gather support from the regions, and was made up of selected, partisan representatives. It was not some kind of proto-democratic representative body.  The business of the parliament focused on enforcing the Provisions of Westminster, in particular its restrictions on the major nobles, and promising judicial help to those who felt they were suffering from unfair feudal lordship.

The parliament bought temporary calm, but opposition grew once more, particularly as de Montfort and his immediate family began to amass a huge personal fortune. Prince Edward escaped his captors in May and formed a new army, resulting in a fresh outbreak of civil war. Edward pursued de Monfort’s forces through the Welsh Marches, before striking east to attack his fortress at Kenilworth and then turning once more on the rebel leader himself. De Montfort, accompanied by the captive Henry, was unable to retreat and the Battle of Evesham ensued. Edward was triumphant. De Montfort was killed, and his corpse was mutilated by the victors.

The rebellion dragged on in pockets and was not fully crushed until July 1267. Henry III ruled England until his death in 1272, continuing to summon parliaments, sometimes including the county knights and on one occasion including burgesses from the towns. After 1297 under Edward I’s reign, this became the norm, and by the early 14th century it was normal to include the knights and burgesses, a grouping that would become known as the “Commons” of England and, ultimately, form the “House of Commons.”

Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is sometimes referred to as the first English parliament, because of its inclusion of both the knights and the burgesses, and de Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons. This is certainly a case of overreach, or, at best, looking at history in hindsight. The House of Commons did eventually develop into a fully representative and democratically elected body, so historians can look back to how it evolved, and where it started. By looking backwards from what developed later, historians can mark de Montford’s parliament as the first body that involved commoners, and, by that standard, peg it as the beginning of the House of Commons. But the burgesses at the court were chosen by de Montfort, and, although they were free to speak on matters beyond taxation, they could not initiate nor pass laws. Whether this was the beginning of the House of Commons seems a stretch, but you can decide.

De Montfort’s parliament met in the palace of Westminster, and parliaments still do, although the buildings have changed considerably in the interim. The current building was built in 1834, after a fire destroyed large sections of the old one.

Back when I posted about Big Ben I mentioned HP sauce, because HP stands for Houses of Parliament: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ Now we are not talking about the Houses of Parliament in general, but the House of Commons, which meets in a chamber of the palace of Westminster. Therefore, we should focus on another recipe. The House of Commons once put out a cookbook of favorite recipes by MPs, so you could check that out if you want.

I am going to give a recipe (not from the book) for House of Commons pudding. It’s a bit like spotted dick except that the pudding is sponge cake and crumbled ratafia biscuits (or almond macaroons), infused with egg custard, mixed with raisins, and steamed.

House of Commons Pudding

Ingredients

2 oz/50 g seedless raisins
2 tbsp/30 ml medium-dry sherry
4 trifle sponges, cut into ½ inch dice
9 ratafias or 2 almond macaroons, crumbled
14 fl oz/400 ml milk
3 eggs
1 oz/25 gm caster sugar
vanilla essence
glace cherries
angelica, cut in strips
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Put the raisins in a small bowl with the sherry and macerate overnight.

Grease a pudding basin with butter and line it with greaseproof paper. Decorate the bottom with glace cherries and angelica.

Place the diced sponges in a mixing bowl. Mix in the crumbled ratafias (or macaroons).

Drain the raisins and discard the sherry.

Place a layer of the sponge mixture in the pudding base, being careful not to disturb the cherries and angelica. Sprinkle in a few of the raisins. Repeat the layering until the basin is filled.

Bring the milk to just below boiling point over medium heat in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour in the scalded milk. Add a few drops of vanilla essence.

Slowly strain the custard mix on to the sponge mix in the pudding basin, so that it seeps down through the layers. Let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer setup. You can either use a conventional steamer with boiling water in the bottom, and a perforated top part to hold the pudding basin. Or you can invert a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan and add one or two inches of water, and set the pot to boil. The saucer will keep the pudding basin off the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, and secure it with string. You can also add a layer of aluminium foil.

Place the basin in the top of the steamer or on the saucer, cover the pan and steam for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the basin from the steamer, place a plate over the top, invert the basin and plate, and unmold the pudding carefully. Serve with egg custard.

Nov 012017
 

Today is the birthday (1871) of Stephen Crane who was a prolific novelist, poet, and short story writer during his short life. He wrote notable works in what is now called the American Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. I knew nothing about Crane until I moved to Orange County, New York near to Port Jervis where he grew up. He’s well known in the U.S. for The Red Badge of Courage, a stark portrayal of a battle during the American Civil War that was quite at odds with the writing of the time because of its unflinching description of the horrors of battle. I expect the book is (or was) required reading in high school literature classes, but American literature passed me by in its totality when I was in secondary school. Things may have changed. As soon as I lived near Port Jervis, and traveled there all the time for shopping and business, it was impossible to avoid Crane’s aura.

Crane was born on November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, to Jonathan Townley Crane, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church, and Mary Helen Peck Crane, daughter of a clergyman. He was the 14th and last child born to the couple. Nine survived to adulthood. The young Stephen was raised primarily by his sister Agnes, who was 15 years his senior. The family moved to Port Jervis, New York, in 1876, where his father became the pastor of Drew Methodist Church, a position that he retained until his death.

As a child, Stephen was often sickly and afflicted by constant colds. Despite his fragile nature, Crane was an intelligent child who taught himself to read before the age of four. Crane was not regularly enrolled in school until January 1880, but he had no difficulty in completing two grades in six weeks. Recalling this feat, he wrote that it “sounds like the lie of a fond mother at a teaparty, but I do remember that I got ahead very fast and that father was very pleased with me.”

Crane’s father died on February 16, 1880, at the age of 60; Stephen was 8 years old. After her husband’s death, Crane’s mother moved to Roseville, near Newark, leaving Stephen in the care of his older brother Edmund who lived in Sussex County, New Jersey. He next lived with his brother William, a lawyer, in Port Jervis for several years. His older sister Helen took him to Asbury Park to be with their brother Townley and his wife, Fannie. Townley was a professional journalist who headed the Long Branch department of both the New-York Tribune and the Associated Press, and also served as editor of the Asbury Park Shore Press. Agnes, another Crane sister, joined the siblings in New Jersey. She took a position at Asbury Park’s intermediate school and moved in with Helen to care for the young Stephen.

Within a couple of years, the Crane family suffered more losses. First, Townley and his wife lost their two young children. His wife Fannie died of Bright’s disease in November 1883. Agnes Crane became ill and died on June 10, 1884, of meningitis at the age of 28. In late 1885 Crane enrolled at Pennington Seminary, a ministry-focused coeducational boarding school 7 miles (11 km) north of Trenton. His father had been principal there from 1849 to 1858. In 1886 Luther Crane, another of Stephen’s siblings, died after falling in front of an oncoming train while working as a flagman for the Erie Railroad. It was the fourth death in six years among Stephen’s immediate family.

After two years, Crane left Pennington for Claverack College, a quasi-military school. He later looked back on his time at Claverack as “the happiest period of my life although I was not aware of it.” While he held an impressive record on the drill field and baseball diamond, Crane generally did not excel in the classroom. Not having a middle name, as was customary among other students, he took to signing his name “Stephen T. Crane” in order “to win recognition as a regular fellow.” Crane was seen as friendly, but also moody and rebellious. He sometimes skipped class in order to play baseball in which he was a star catcher. He was also greatly interested in the school’s military training program. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the student battalion.

In mid-1888, Crane became his brother Townley’s assistant at a New Jersey shore news bureau, working there every summer until 1892. Crane’s first publication under his byline was an article on the explorer Henry M. Stanley’s famous quest to find the Scottish missionary David Livingstone in Africa. It appeared in the February 1890 Claverack College Vidette. Within a few months, Crane was persuaded by his family to forgo a military career and transfer to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in order to pursue a mining engineering degree. He registered at Lafayette on September 12, and promptly became involved in extracurricular activities. He took up baseball again and joined the largest fraternity, Delta Upsilon. He infrequently attended classes and ended the semester with grades for only four of the seven courses he had enrolled in. After one semester, he transferred to Syracuse University, where he enrolled as a non-degree candidate in the College of Liberal Arts. He roomed in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house and joined the baseball team. He attended just one class (English Literature) during the middle trimester, and remained in residence while taking no courses in the third trimester.

He focused on his writing while at Syracuse and began to experiment with tone and style while trying out different subjects. He published his fictional story, “Great Bugs of Onondaga,” simultaneously in the Syracuse Daily Standard and the New York Tribune. Having declared college “a waste of time” he decided to become a full-time writer and reporter. He attended a Delta Upsilon chapter meeting on June 12, 1891, but shortly thereafter left college for good. It’s getting quite normal for me to write that a famous author or writer quit school at a young age because he (or she) was fed up with its limitations. It’s less possible in the sciences and technical fields these days, but was the norm in these fields also at one time because education was dominated by Latin and Greek, with theology thrown in for good measure down to the 19th century.

Crane lived for only 9 years after college, but his life was packed with adventure. You can read about that on your own. I’ll, instead talk about The Red Badge of Courage and the role Port Jervis played in the writing of it. Not only did Crane spend significant portions of his boyhood in Port Jervis, he was a frequent visitor as an adult, staying with his brother, William. The house where William lived and practiced law on East Main Street is still used as law offices: now one of the grand old buildings in a part of the city that are too expensive to be used as private dwellings. In its heyday Port Jervis was a prosperous, thriving, bustling city located on a key turn in the Delaware and Hudson canal (hence the “port” part) which ran from Honesdale on the eastern tip of the coal fields of Pennsylvania to Kingston, New York, on the Hudson. The canal supplied coal to New York city (via the Hudson river), fueling the Industrial Revolution there. It was also the conduit for all manner of supplies such as bluestone, used as paving stones and building materials for the city, fine glassware and crystal, and a host of manufactured goods. The canal followed the Delaware river eastwards to Port Jervis, then struck north to Kingston. Until the canal was built Port Jervis did not exist as anything other than a minor village on the junction of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Afterwards it was a major center for manufacturing and commerce. In Crane’s time the city was in its absolute heyday

Drew Methodist church, where Crane’s father was pastor and where the Crane family lived, is adjacent to one of the city’s parks, now called Veteran’s Park, with various monuments to the 124th New York State Volunteers, generally known as the Orange Blossoms, who fought in major campaigns in the American Civil War, and who were recruited in major urban centers of Orange County, especially Port Jervis. Local tradition has it that Crane spent time, both as a boy and as an adult, listening to tales of war from veterans in that park. In fact, it used to be called Stephen Crane Memorial Park until 1983 when the name was changed because locals objected to it because they felt that The Red Badge of Courage was a disservice to the memory of civil war veterans, many of whose descendants still live in Port Jervis. No comment.

The central battle in The Red Badge of Courage is not named, but historians universally agree that it is a fictionalized account of the Battle of Chancellorsville where the Orange Blossoms served with distinction. You’ll have to read the book, if you haven’t already, to get the general feeling of it. Here’s some morsels:

He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try and read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.

The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since those days of camp life upon the river bank. He seemed no more to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess. He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits. He was no more a loud young soldier. There was about him now a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities. And this inward confidence evidently enabled him to be indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.

It was perhaps that they dreaded to be killed in insignificant ways after the times for proper military deaths had passed. Or, perhaps, they thought it would be too ironical to get killed at the portals of safety.

Even today readers marvel at the accuracy with which Crane was able to portray the inner feelings of soldiers in war time even though he had no experience of combat. Without question he spent long hours talking to veterans, probably in Port Jervis, and elsewhere.

Camp cooking during the American Civil War has been analyzed many times. The big problem at the start of the war was that the soldiers had no experience with cooking. Men didn’t cook at home in those days – end of story. In consequence the army had to devise a strategy to keep the men as well fed as possible. One solution was to divide the soldiers into mess units of 100 with a man appointed as main cook with another man helping on a rotating basis. For general reference to help the cooks Captain James Sanderson wrote Camp Fires and Camp Cooking; or, Culinary Hints for the Soldier. You can find the complete text as a .pdf file here:

https://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5Qaef3NK3YNUKcQUrOwz6KhRxlwJ1iCTm2kmWbIQ-EODOcjXLOUfGiG9RvPjde7ZN17vttRu8jQuY5sXRIpnJoplTAsD3nBT66PHH3tJj7is-nfubu1KMSXDgmhNgTpzMDql8Qp2NC03i95-TZf8398A3Qm6EJ5G5Faxn0aHI_HHLiEBqEaOFLtfdtbFPnbzkn8O8mg6T2U4_HrbYmEgriy_V86KoRQRU75irJz_tUydY7XJtTnQ8BxMRuZ5aNxJbUB3gU3tFE1QsTzROpmxSpZgE6eO0GNltEnqxtKzVt2soPaYpuZM 

The recipes are not bad and can easily be replicated at home. They are very detailed to help novice cooks, unlike other cookbooks of the era than were written for chefs and home cooks with some experience. I cooked in much the same over my fire pit in Orange County, not thinking at the time that I was re-enacting battlefield cooking. A few excerpts:

KITCHEN PHILOSOPHY.

Remember that beans, badly boiled, kill more than bullets; and fat is more fatal than powder. In cooking, more than in anything else in this world, always make haste slowly. One hour too much is vastly better than five minutes too little, with rare exceptions. A big fire scorches your soup, burns your face, and crisps your temper. Skim, simmer, and scour, are the true secrets of good cooking.

BOILED PORK AND BEEN (sic) SOUP.

Never serve beans until they have been soaked over night. At eight o’clock in the morning, put eight quarts into two kettles, and fill up with clean cold water. Boil constantly, over a brisk fire, for an hour or more, during which many of the beans will rise to the top. At the end of this time, take the kettles off the fire for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then pour off all the water, replacing it with fresh clean water. Add to each kettle a pound of parboiled pork, without rind, and boil continuously for an hour and a half longer.

At quarter past eight o’clock, fill three kettles loosely with pieces of pork weighing from three to five pounds, cover with water, and boil briskly for one hour; then pour off all the liquid, and fill up with clean hot water, and boil for one hour and a half longer; then take out all the pork, and lay it aside. Take out also one-half of the beans from the other kettles, placing them aside for breakfast next morning, and add to the remainder the liquor in which the pork was boiled. To each kettle add also two onions chopped or sliced, with plenty of black or red pepper, some salt, and a tablespoonful of vinegar. After fifteen minutes’ longer boiling, mash the beans with a wooden stick made for the purpose, and serve, with a slice of pork, in a separate dish.

If onions are plenty, mince fine eight or ten of them, fry them in a pan with a little flour and fat, with half a pint hot water, and the same quantity of the liquor in which the pork was boiled. After cooking five minutes, add pepper, salt, and half a glass of vinegar, and pour over the slices of pork.

 

 

May 302016
 

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Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a federal holiday whose overt purpose is to remember the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, but which for most people is simply a day off from work, and is far less explicitly connected to memorializing war dead than observances in other countries such as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and the like. It is true that there are local parades and wreath-laying ceremonies, but they generally take a back seat to barbecues and shopping. Memorial Day is generally seen as the start of the summer vacation season (and coincides with the end of the university year), while Labor Day marks the end.

The holiday, which is now observed every year on the last Monday of May (but was originally fixed on 30 May), originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all U.S. citizens who had died while in the military service.

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Annual Decoration Days for some cemeteries are still held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in rural areas of the U.S. South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors, as well as those who have died more recently, are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the grounds,” the traditional term for a potluck meal at a church. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect a more remote ancestor to the “memorial day” idea.

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The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Hampton Park Race Course in Charleston; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The newly freed slaves cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course”. Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children, newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, as well as mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field.

David W. Blight described the day as follows:

This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.

Blight did, however, remark that he had no evidence that this event in Charleston inspired the establishment of Memorial Day across the country.

On May 26, 1966, President Johnson signed a presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Earlier, the 89th Congress had adopted House Concurrent Resolution 587, which officially recognized that the patriotic tradition of observing Memorial Day began 100 years prior in Waterloo, New York. Other communities claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day include Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Carbondale, Illinois, Columbus, Georgia, and Columbus, Mississippi. A recent study investigating the Waterloo claim as well as dozens of other origination theories concludes that nearly all of them are based apocryphal legends.

 

Landscape

Copying a practice that began in the Southern states, on May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide. It was observed for the first time that year on Saturday May 30; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle, but was the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom.

Memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. Michigan made “Decoration Day” an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

An annual Memorial Day custom has been in practice in the South since 1866. The U.S. National Park Service, as well as numerous scholars, attribute its beginning to the ladies of Columbus, Georgia. Originally called “Memorial Day,” the Southern commemoration appended the label “Confederate” to the title when northerners co-opted the holiday in 1868. The tradition of Memorial Day observance which had emerged earlier in the South was linked to the Lost Cause and served as the prototype for the national day of memory embraced by the nation in 1868. Various dates ranging from April 25 to mid-June were adopted in different Southern states. Across the South, associations were founded, many by women, to establish and care for permanent cemeteries for the Confederate dead, organize commemorative ceremonies, and sponsor appropriate monuments as a permanent way of remembering the Confederate cause. The most important was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from 17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by World War I. They were “strikingly successful at raising money to build Confederate monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks.”

On April 25, 1866, women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers on the graves of both the Union and Confederate dead in the city’s cemetery. The early Confederate Memorial Day celebrations were simple, somber occasions for veterans and their families to honor the dead and tend to local cemeteries. By 1890, there was a shift from the emphasis on honoring specific soldiers to a public commemoration of the lost Confederate cause. Changes in the ceremony’s hymns and speeches reflect an evolution of the practice into a symbol of cultural renewal and conservatism in the South. By 1913, Blight argues, the theme of American nationalism shared equal time with the Lost Cause.

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The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from “Decoration Day” to “Memorial Day”, which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968,  Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years.

Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to the original date, although the significance of that date is tenuous. The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address:

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

Starting in 1987 Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. Inouye continued introducing the resolution until his death in 2012.

I’ve attended more than my fair share of mundane Memorial Day barbecues in the past, involving indifferent hamburgers, cooked on propane grills, along with side dishes of bean or potato salads and their ilk. Southern-style dinner on the grounds holds much more appeal for me. My contributions have varied mightily over the years. Churches have ovens to keep hot dishes warm, so I have made pies and casseroles of various sorts. Once I made a Mexican-inspired dish of corn tortillas wrapped around ground beef, onions, and peppers baked in a spicy tomato sauce which everyone called “lasagna” but scarfed up anyway. In the years before I left the U.S. I tended to resort to large plates of assorted vegetable crudités, accompanied by homemade dips, which vanished in a flash as both appetizers and side dishes.

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There is no great secret to the crudités beyond variety. Don’t just cut up a few carrots and celery sticks and call it quits. Mushrooms for me are a must, as well as bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes. You’re looking for color and crunch. There’s few vegetables that cannot be eaten raw (with the exception of most roots).

The real trick is in creating an array of dips – not just one. Commercial dips don’t cut it for me. A blend of Roquefort or Stilton and mayonnaise is one of my favorites, but over the years I’ve experimented a fair bit, mostly with herbs and spices.  Homemade mayonnaise is a snap. The oil is your choice. I use olive oil, but you can use safflower oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, corn oil . . . or any oil you like.

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Mayonnaise  

Ingredients

1 egg yolk
½ tsp salt
½ tsp dry mustard (optional)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 cup oil

Instructions

Combine the lemon juice and vinegar in a little bowl.

Put the egg yolk salt and mustard (if used) in a mixing bowl. To mix you can use a hand whisk, portable electric mixer or stand mixer. I use the latter usually, but I have used hand methods. The main thing is never to stop beating. With a stand mixer, I set it on medium speed and just keep it running until finished. Beat the egg mixture to a froth. Add half the lemon/vinegar mix and continue beating. Then begin adding the oil one drop at a time. Your beating must be continuous. Add about one half of the oil in this manner.  You will see an emulsion starting to form. When the mix is creamy add the rest of the lemon and vinegar. Now you can add the oil a little faster in a steady stream. When all the oil is added, you are done.

May 252016
 

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Today is one of two national days of independence in Argentina. I have already covered the main events of 25 de Mayo here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/216/  The May Revolution of 1810 initiated the independence movement, but what followed was a bloody century in Argentina and throughout South America. First there were the wars of independence with Spain, followed by various internecine wars in South America to carve out national territories from the former vice royalties of Spain, coupled with civil wars inside Argentina between the forces in favor of federalism along the lines of the USA (Federales), and those who wanted a centralized government in Buenos Aires (Unitarios). Internal strife within Argentina did not end until 1880. War with foreign nations, especially Britain (seeking to colonize Argentina after independence from Spain), dribbled on mid-century. The 19th century in Argentina was an incredibly bloody and contentious century, that eventually forged the modern nation, the events of which are commemorated publicly, and drilled into the heads of all school children from an early age.

It is reasonable to argue, I think, that the horrendous blood letting of the 19th century led to a pacifist 20th century in Argentina, with no external wars excepting the Malvinas conflict, which was trumped up by the generals to bolster their fading hold on power during the Dirty War.  The Malvinas are the last vestige of 19th century British colonialism in the region, still a major sore spot in Argentine national consciousness.

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In the early decades of the 19th century following independence, various efforts were made to draft national constitutions for Argentina. The Argentine Constitution of 1819 was drafted by the Congress of Tucumán and promulgated on this date because it was the anniversary of the May Revolution. It was promoted by Buenos Aires but rejected by the other provinces and did not come into force.

The Congress of Tucumán had moved to Buenos Aires, after having issued the Argentine Declaration of Independence in San Miguel de Tucumán (9 July 1816). The draft constitution of 1819 was based on the current laws ruling the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, as well as in foreign constitutions such as those of the US, France, and Spain. It was written by José Mariano Serrano, Diego Estanislao Zavaleta, Teodoro Sánchez de Bustamante, Juan José Paso and Antonio Sáenz.

The Constitution set the separation of powers into three distinct branches, with the executive power to be held by a “Supreme Director,” who would be elected by a majority of a Joint Session of Congress, and who would serve a 5-year term. Under the form of government established in 1814, the executive power had been exercised by the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, but there had been attempts to crown a Bourbon as King of the United Provinces. He would have had the authority to designate the governors of the provinces.

The legislative power was meant to be exercised by two chambers; one of Senators, the other of deputies. Besides a fixed number of Senators per province, the chamber of Senators would also be composed by three military officers (colonel or higher), one bishop, three clergymen, a representative of each University, and the former Supreme Director. Both senators and deputies had to show evidence of an estate of $8000 and $4000 respectively. The chamber of deputies was to have the initiative in issues related to taxes.

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The constitution was promulgated on May 25, 1819. It was immediately rejected by the provinces, which then waged war against the Supreme Directorship. The national armies that were fighting the War of Independence refused to fight a civil war, so the diminished troops of Supreme Director José Rondeau were defeated in February 1820 at the Battle of Cepeda. The 1819 Constitution was subsequently repealed to be followed by a new constitution in 1826. And so on . . .

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On this date, Argentinos celebrate the events of the May Revolution with locro and pastelitos de 25 de Mayo which I have described at length in other posts. Both are classics of Argentine cuisine.

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Today I will probably make something resembling picada, a classic Argentine between-meals snack which can also serve as a light meal. It is influenced by the Italian antipasto, but in Argentina it consists of local products such as matambre, cheeses, and cured meats. Breakfast in Argentina is usually mate plus some pastries and the evening meal often does not start until 9pm or later. Lunch can be heavy, followed by a siesta (a grand tradition I follow), so something relatively substantial is necessary to fill the gaps. I have no chance of finding Argentine sausages and cheeses in Italy, so I will have to make do – you will too if you want to celebrate the day outside of Argentina. I will, at least, be able to drink mate (which I do every day), but, sadly will have no one to share with me. This is the tragedy of my current life. My friends keep reminding me: “Juan – se tiene que compartir los mates !!!” YA ENTIENDO !!! Voy a volver, eventualmente hermanos.

Feb 122016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kentucky Corn Cakes

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

Instructions

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

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

Dec 062015
 

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On this date in 1922 the Irish Free State was established as a dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed by British and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand. As expected, Northern Ireland immediately exercised its right under the Treaty to remove itself from the new state. The Irish Free State effectively replaced both the self-proclaimed Irish Republic (founded 21 January 1919) and the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. W. T. Cosgrave, the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, had led both of these governments since August 1922. The Free State came to an end in 1937, when the citizens voted by plebiscite to adopt a new constitution. Under the new constitution the Irish state was named Ireland.

The Easter Rising of 1916, and particularly the execution of fifteen people by firing squad, the imprisonment or internment of hundreds more, and the imposition of martial law caused a profound shift in public opinion towards the republican cause in Ireland. Meanwhile, opposition at home increased to Ireland’s participation in World War I in Europe and the Middle East. This came about when the Irish Parliamentary Party supported the Allied cause in World War I in response to the passing of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1914. Many people had begun to doubt whether the Bill, passed by Westminster in September 1914 but suspended for the duration of the war, would ever come into effect.

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Due to the war situation deteriorating badly on the Western Front in April 1918, which coincided with the publication of the final report and recommendations of the Irish Convention, the British Cabinet drafted a doomed “dual policy” of introducing Home Rule linked to compulsory military service for Ireland which it eventually had to drop. Sinn Féin, the Irish Party and all other Nationalist elements joined forces in opposition to the idea during the Conscription Crisis of 1918. Irish republicans felt further emboldened by successful anti-monarchical revolutions in the Russian Empire (1917), the German Empire (1918), and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1918). In the December 1918 General Election, Sinn Féin won a large majority of the Irish seats in the Westminster parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: 73 of the 105 constituencies returned Sinn Féin members (25 uncontested). The Sinn Féin party, founded by Arthur Griffith in 1905, had previously espoused non-violent separatism. Under Éamon de Valera’s leadership from 1917, it campaigned aggressively and militantly for an Irish republic.

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On 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs (who became known as Teachta Dála, TDs), refusing to sit at Westminster, assembled in Dublin and formed a single-chamber Irish parliament called Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland). It affirmed the formation of an Irish Republic and passed a Declaration of Independence,

The Irish people are resolved…to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice …with equal rights and equal opportunity for every citizen.

and calling itself Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State). Although a small majority of Irish people accepted this course, the U.S. and Soviet Russia were expected to recognize the Irish Republic internationally. “The Message to the Free Nations of the World” called on

every free nation to support the Irish Republic by recognizing Ireland’s national status…the last outpost of Europe towards the West…demanded by the Freedom of the Seas.

Cathal Brugha elected President of the Ministry Pro-Tem warned, “Deputies you understand from this that we are now done with England.”

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The War of Independence (1919–21) pitted the army of the Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (known subsequently as the “Old IRA” to distinguish it from later organizations of that name), against the British Army, the Black and Tans, the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Auxiliary Division, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Ulster Volunteer Force. On 9 July 1921 a truce came into force. By this time the Ulster Parliament had been opened, established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, presenting the republican side with a fait accompli and guaranteeing the British a permanent entanglement in Ireland. On 11 October negotiations opened between prime minister David Lloyd George and Arthur Griffith, who headed the Irish Republic’s delegation. The Irish Treaty delegation set up its headquarters in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. On 5 December 1921 at 11:15 am the delegation decided during private discussions to recommend the negotiated agreement to the Dáil Éireann; negotiations continued until 2:30 am on 6 December 1921, after which the parties signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

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Nobody had doubted that these negotiations would produce a form of Irish government short of the independence wished for by republicans. The United Kingdom could not offer a republican form of government without losing prestige and risking demands for something similar throughout the Empire. Furthermore, as one of the negotiators, Michael Collins, later admitted (and he would have known, given his leading role in the independence war), the IRA at the time of the truce was weeks, if not days, from collapse, with a chronic shortage of ammunition. “Frankly, we thought they were mad”, Collins said of the sudden British offer of a truce – although the republicans would probably have continued the struggle in one form or another, given the level of public support. The president of the Republic, Éamon de Valera, realizing that Westminster would not accept an Irish republic, decided not to become a member of the treaty delegation (Griffith, Collins, Duggan, Barton, and Gavan Duffy) and so not to become accused by more militant republicans as a “sellout”. Yet his own proposals – published in January 1922 – fell far short of an autonomous all-Ireland republic. Sinn Féin’s abstention was unambiguous.

As expected, the Anglo-Irish Treaty explicitly ruled out a republic. It offered Ireland dominion status, as a state within the then British Empire, equal to Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Though less than expected by the Sinn Féin leadership, this deal offered substantially more than the initial form of home rule within the United Kingdom sought by Charles Stewart Parnell from 1880, and represented a serious advance on the Home Rule Bill of 1914 that the Irish nationalist leader John Redmond had achieved through parliamentary proceedings. However, it all but confirmed the partition of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. The Second Dáil in Dublin ratified the Treaty (7 January 1922), splitting Sinn Féin in the process.

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The Treaty, and the legislation introduced to give that Treaty legal effect, implied that Northern Ireland would be a part of the Free State on its creation, but legally the terms of the Treaty applied only to the southern 26 counties, and the government of the Free State never had any powers—even in principle—in Northern Ireland.

The Treaty was given legal effect in the United Kingdom through the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922. That Act, which established the Free State, allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of it. Under Article 12 of the Treaty, Northern Ireland could exercise its option by presenting an address to the King requesting not to be part of the Irish Free State. Once the Treaty was ratified, the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland had one month (dubbed the “Ulster month”) to exercise this option during which month the Government of Ireland Act continued to apply in Northern Ireland.

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Realistically it was always certain that Northern Ireland would opt out of the Free State. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, speaking in the Parliament in October 1922 said that “when 6 December is passed the month begins in which we will have to make the choice either to vote out or remain within the Free State”. He said it was important that that choice be made as soon as possible after 6 December 1922 “in order that it may not go forth to the world that we had the slightest hesitation”. On the following day, 7 December 1922, the Parliament resolved to make the following address to the King so as to opt out of the Irish Free State:

MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland.

Discussion in the Parliament of the address was short. Prime Minister Craig left for London with the memorial embodying the address on the night boat that evening, 7 December 1922. The King received it the following day, The Times reporting:

YORK COTTAGE, SANDRINGHAM, DEC. 8. The Earl of Cromer (Lord Chamberlain) was received in audience by The King this evening and presented an Address from the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland, to which His Majesty was graciously pleased to make reply.

If the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland had not made such a declaration, under Article 14 of the Treaty Northern Ireland, its Parliament and government would have continued in being but the Oireachtas would have had jurisdiction to legislate for Northern Ireland in matters not delegated to Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act. This, of course, never came to pass.

On 13 December 1922 Prime Minister Craig addressed the Parliament informing them that the King had responded to the Parliament’s address as follows:

I have received the Address presented to me by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in pursuance of Article 12 of the Articles of Agreement set forth in the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, and of Section 5 of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, and I have caused my Ministers and the Irish Free State Government to be so informed.

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The Treaty established that the new Irish Free State would be a constitutional monarchy, with a Governor-General. The Constitution of the Irish Free State made more detailed provision for the state’s system of government, with a three-tier parliament, called the Oireachtas, made up of the King and two houses, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate). Executive authority was vested in the King, and exercised by a cabinet called the Executive Council, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council.

The King in Ireland was represented by a Governor-General of the Irish Free State. The office replaced the previous Lord Lieutenant, who had headed English and British administrations in Ireland since the Middle Ages. Governors-General were appointed by the King initially on the advice of the British Government, but with the consent of the Irish Government. From 1927 the Irish Government alone had the power to advise the King whom to appoint.

As with all dominions, provision was made for an Oath of Allegiance. Within dominions, such oaths were taken by parliamentarians personally towards the monarch. The Irish Oath of Allegiance was fundamentally different. It had two elements; the first, an oath to the Free State, as by law established, the second part a promise of fidelity, to His Majesty, King George V, his heirs and successors. That second fidelity element, however, was qualified in two ways. It was to the King in Ireland, not specifically to the King of the United Kingdom. Secondly, it was to the King explicitly in his role as part of the Treaty settlement, not in terms of pre-1922 British rule. The Oath itself came from a combination of three sources, and was largely the work of Michael Collins in the Treaty negotiations. It came in part from a draft oath suggested prior to the negotiations by president de Valera. Other sections were taken by Collins directly from the Oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), of which he was the secret head. In its structure, it was also partially based on the form and structure used for ‘Dominion status’.

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Although ‘a new departure’, and notably indirect in its reference to the monarchy, it was criticized by nationalists and republicans for making any reference to the Crown, the claim being that it was a direct oath to the Crown, a fact demonstrably incorrect by an examination of its wording. But in 1922 Ireland and beyond, it was the perception, not the reality, that influenced public debate on the issue. Had its original author, Michael Collins, survived, he might have been able to clarify its actual meaning, but with his assassination in August 1922, no major negotiator to the Oath’s creation on the Irish side was still alive, available or pro-Treaty. (The leader of the Irish delegation, Arthur Griffith, had also died in August 1922). The Oath became a key issue in the resulting Irish Civil War that divided the pro- and anti-treaty sides in 1922–23.

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The compromises contained in the agreement caused war in the 26 counties in June 1922 – April 1923, in which the pro-Treaty Provisional Government defeated the anti-Treaty Republican forces. The latter were led, nominally, by Éamon de Valera, who had resigned as President of the Republic on the treaty’s ratification. His resignation outraged some of his own supporters, notably Seán T. O’Kelly, the main Sinn Féin organizer. On resigning, he then sought re-election but was defeated two days later on a vote of 60–58. The pro-Treaty Arthur Griffith followed as President of the Irish Republic. Michael Collins was chosen at a meeting of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland (a body set up under the Government of Ireland Act 1920) to become Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State in accordance with the Treaty. The general election in June gave overwhelming support for the pro-Treaty parties. W. T. Cosgrave’s Crown-appointed Provisional Government effectively subsumed Griffith’s republican administration with the death of both Collins and Griffith in August 1922.

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The civil war ended in 1923 with the defeat of the anti-treaty forces. The Irish Free State became a fully independent republic in 1937. Attempts to re-unite the north and south have lead to decades of bloodshed, some of which I experienced directly as a young man in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Because of English/British control of Ireland for centuries, their cultures are deeply entwined, yet separate. Nowhere is this clearer than in cooking. There is not a lot that is uniquely Irish in cooking. In the U.S., the trotting out of corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day is a tradition without real roots in Ireland. A boiled dinner of meat and vegetables, certainly has a venerable history in Irish households, but so does it in Britain and across Europe. Even so, I have often espoused dishes here that have a direct connexion with Ireland and Gaelic culture, such as Irish stew (made with mutton), colcannon, dulce, and the like. In the post-war years Irish cooking tended to be as bland and ordinary as English cooking for the same reasons – economic hardship and an impoverished farm industry. That is now rectified and Irish ingredients and cooking are, once again, superb. Nevertheless, Irish cuisine still has peasant roots reflected in offal dishes that I love.

Cork, on the southern coast of Ireland, has a long-standing association with animal produce and, from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, was a major supplier of butter and salted (preserved) beef and pork to the British Empire, specifically the armed forces. The beef and pork industry meant a plentiful supply of offal. Offcuts were available at affordable prices for local consumption by the poor and underprivileged. An entire Cork cuisine developed based on offal – particularly pig offal. Examples include crubeens (pigs’ trotters); pigs’ tails; drisheen – a boiled blood sausage traditionally served with tripe; bodice – plain or salted pig ribs, cooked as a simple white stew, or as a salted bacon dish cooked with cabbage and turnip. In Cork, the word offal came to mean one specific dish – pig’s backbone. Now illegal to use because of BSE, it was cooked either salted or as a white stew.

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For today I will highlight skirts and kidneys. The meat ingredients for skirts and kidneys can be bought generally in any pork butcher’s shop in Ireland, and you can probably do well enough anywhere where pork is prevalent. Skirts are the trimmings from the inside of the ribs and backbone. While the meat is thin, it is quite tender as it forms part of little-used muscle in the animal. It is encased in a tough white membrane which needs to be stripped off before cooking. Kidneys need to be carefully washed in copious amounts of fresh water to ensure that all traces of urine are washed away. Pork kidneys can be quite strong, and so are not as plentiful as ox kidneys.

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The dish is a basic white stew for which you don’t really need a detailed recipe. Trim the skirts to remove all membranes and other inedible parts. Cut the kidneys in half and remove all the white tubing at the center. Put them in a large pot and cover with light stock. Bring to a simmer and skim the froth that rises. Then add chopped onions, thyme, and salt and white pepper to taste. Continue to cook until the meats are tender (1 to 2 hours). Then add diced potatoes. You can peel them if you like but I just scrub them and cook them with the skins on. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Some cooks add cornstarch (mixed with a little water) towards the end to thicken the sauce. It’s also possible to add a little cream if you like. You can also add a little thyme towards the end to brighten the flavor.

In some parts of Ireland they do not use thyme, but are heavy with the pepper.

Always serve this stew in deep bowls with crusty bread. It’s also traditional to drink tea with the stew.

Nov 262015
 

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In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. That was this date – 26 November – in 1863. So today marks the anniversary of the first federally mandated Thanksgiving day.

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The document proclaiming the day, written by Secretary of State William H. Seward, reads as follows:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.

Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.

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Of course there had been state and national days of thanksgiving going all the way back to 1621 when the pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in the New World. But Lincoln’s proclamation established the date and the celebration as a federal holiday in perpetuity. His proclamation was slightly modified by FDR in 1939. November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the more-common four), Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. Although many popular histories state otherwise, he made clear that his plan was to establish the holiday on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one as a general rule. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving to a week earlier to expand the shopping season, and within two years the change passed through Congress into law.

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Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to November 30 as the “Republican Thanksgiving” and November 23 as the “Democratic Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving”. Regardless of the politics, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and many football teams had a tradition of playing their final games of the season on Thanksgiving; with their schedules set well in advance, they could not change. Since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, Roosevelt’s change was widely disregarded. 23 states went along with Roosevelt’s recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both days as government holidays.

In 1940 and 1941, years in which November had four Thursdays, Roosevelt declared the third one as Thanksgiving. As in 1939, some states went along with the change while others retained the traditional last-Thursday date. On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. So it remains to this day.

For many years my wife and I celebrated Thanksgiving with her cousins in Philadelphia. They always had 20 to 30 people over, so it was a big blowout with mountains of food. But then when my wife died I stopped going to her cousins’, and my son and I celebrated alone for a while. This was both an opportunity and a challenge. You see, there’s not much on the traditional Thanksgiving plate I like. I’m more or less indifferent to roast turkey, especially when others cook it. The general idea that you should have the biggest, monster bird possible has always seemed to me to be a mistake. Sure, a 25 lb bird makes a great show when first presented on the table, but more often than not it’s been cooked to death, so that the breast meat is dry and tasteless, made only slightly palatable by tons of gravy. Every year television cooks share their secrets for making the breast moist from very slow cooking, to internal basting, or whatever. For me the only good solution is to roast a small bird – 8 to 10 lbs. If you need more meat because you have a large crowd, roast two birds. And roast at very high heat, as hot as possible, 500 degrees or higher if possible. That way you get moist breast meat and a delectably thin and crisp skin.

Before I left the U.S. and stopped cooking Thanksgiving dinner altogether, I switched gears and started smoking the turkey. Here’s an image of my setup.

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To the left of the apparatus is the smoke box, and to the right is the chamber where the meat smoked. This is a bit of a rigmarole and I’ll spare you the details. You need to have the right equipment AND know what you are doing. You have to brine the bird first for about 24 hours, then smoke it for 8 to 10 hours. This means a long day for the cook, because you have to make sure that the smoke box is producing constant smoke. But for my money this is the best way to cook a whole turkey; the meat is moist, rich, and delicious.

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In theory it keeps for a long time too, but not in my house. I also make a mean pumpkin pie with local maple syrup and toasted hazel nuts, but you’ll have to wait for the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving.

Nov 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1900) of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind. As always I will be honest and say up front that I dislike the book and the film, but I think it’s worth celebrating her life. She did make an impact. When I say I “dislike” the book and the film, I need to be a little nuanced. I’ve tried to watch the film three times and just can’t keep watching it. The book is typical of the endless 19th-century novel that once I put down I can’t pick up again. It is important to realize, however, that the book and the film are completely different animals. The film is vastly simplified and, if possible, overly romanticized. Lots of people adore both, however. I’m not sure why. They both represent visions of the Old South I find repellent.

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Mitchell was a Southerner and a lifelong resident and native of Atlanta, Georgia. She was born into a wealthy and politically prominent family. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, was an attorney, and her mother, Mary Isabel “May Belle” (or “Maybelle”) Stephens, was a suffragist. She had two brothers, Russell Stephens Mitchell, who died in infancy in 1894, and Alexander Stephens Mitchell, born in 1896. Mitchell spent her early childhood on Jackson Hill, east of downtown Atlanta. Her family lived near her grandmother, Annie Stephens who had been a widow for several years prior to Margaret’s birth; Captain John Stephens died in 1896. After his death, she inherited property on Jackson Street where Margaret’s family lived. Mitchell’s relationship with her grandmother would become quarrelsome in later years as she entered adulthood. However, for Mitchell, her grandmother was a great source of “eye-witness information” about the Civil War and Reconstruction in Atlanta.

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You’d have to say that Mitchell’s image of the South and, especially, the Old South was deeply influenced by her own childhood and the people she spoke to. As my old professor of Southern History said, there are “many Souths.” Privileged white Atlanta is one of many. One important image of “the South” was fixed in Mitchell’s imagination when at six years old her mother took her on a buggy tour through ruined plantations and “Sherman’s sentinels,” the brick and stone chimneys that remained after Sherman’s “march and torch” through Georgia. Mitchell would later recall what her mother had said to her:

She talked about the world those people had lived in, such a secure world, and how it had exploded beneath them. And she told me that my world was going to explode under me, someday, and God help me if I didn’t have some weapon to meet the new world.

Mitchell said she heard Civil War stories from her relatives when she was growing up:

On Sunday afternoons when we went calling on the older generation of relatives, those who had been active in the Sixties, I sat on the bony knees of veterans and the fat slippery laps of great aunts and heard them talk.

On summer vacations, she visited her maternal great-aunts, Mary Ellen (“Mamie”) Fitzgerald and Sarah (“Sis”) Fitzgerald, who still lived at her great-grandparents’ plantation home in Jonesboro. Mamie had been twenty-one years old and Sis was thirteen when the Civil War began.

Gone with the Wind was first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. The story is a Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, with the title taken from a poem about lost love written by Ernest Dowson.

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Gone With The Wind was popular with U.S. readers from the outset and was the top U.S. fiction bestseller in the year it was published and in 1937. As of 2014, a Harris poll found it to be the second favorite book of U.S. readers, just behind the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide.

Gone With The Wind is Southern plantation fiction of a certain type that I despise. Its portrayal of slavery and African-Americans is abominable, as well as its use of a racial stereotypes and ethnic slurs. Slavery in Gone With The Wind is a backdrop to a story that is essentially about other things. Southern plantation fiction (also known as Anti-Tom literature) from the early 19th century culminating in Gone With The Wind is written from the perspective and values of the slaveholder and tends to present slaves as docile and happy.

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The characters in the novel are organized into two basic groups along class lines: the white planter class, such as Scarlett, and the black house servant class. The slaves depicted in Gone With The Wind are primarily loyal house servants, such as Mammy, Pork, Prissy, and Uncle Peter. House servants are the highest “caste” in Mitchell’s caste system of the slaves. They stay on with their masters even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and subsequent Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 sets them free. Of the servants that stayed on at Tara, Scarlett thinks to herself, “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy.” This may be superficially endearing, but condescending at heart.

The field slaves make up the lower class in Mitchell’s caste system. The field slaves from the Tara plantation and the foreman, Big Sam, are taken away by Confederate soldiers to dig ditches and apparently never return to the plantation. There were yet other field slaves, Mitchell wrote, who were “loyal” and “refused to avail themselves of the new freedom,” but there are no field slave characters in the novel that stay on the plantation after they have been emancipated. This “loyalty” or lack thereof, is true slaveholder wishful thinking. What field hand would want to be loyal to a master who beat him, raped his wife, and sold his children?

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The crude stereotypes in Gone With The Wind – southern belle, rascally but brave and lovable scoundrel, loving mammy etc. etc. – continue to be perpetuated in modern consciousness in the South, not least because of this novel which portrays a world that never existed, but which some people believe in and wish could be restored. I can’t believe the nonsense spewed by contemporary southern politicians who argue that slavery was essentially a good thing. My blood simply boils. That Mitchell encourages this mindset is horrifying to me.

Let me not pass over the inherent sexism in the novel either. Marriage was the goal of all southern belles, and all social and educational pursuits were directed towards it. Regardless of war and the loss of eligible men, young women were still subjected to the pressure to marry. By law and Southern social convention, household heads were adult, white propertied males, and all white women (and all African Americans) were thought to require protection and guidance because they lacked the capacity for reason and self-control. Scarlett’s Reconstruction-era pursuits belie the facts. A woman of the period could not have run a sawmill. If women worked outside the home at all, which was looked down upon, it was as teachers or nurses, under the control and guidance of men.

All right, enough said.

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Southern fried chicken seems like a suitably stereotypical recipe to complement Gone With The Wind. I’ve never made it because that was the province of my wife and her mother’s family – all from the Kentucky mountains. My mother-in-law’s fried chicken was masterful, and we always asked her to make it when we visited from New York. You can find recipes galore, but they won’t help you to make the “real thing.” It’s the lifelong experience and family tradition that makes it. It’s very hard to explain. I mean, I can tell you what to do, but without that family history, you are not going to get it right.

The basics are that you cut a frying chicken into 8 pieces – drumsticks, thighs, wings, and breast. Soak the pieces in buttermilk overnight. (I don’t know why this bit works, but it does). Heat lard or vegetable shortening in a cast-iron skillet to about 325°F. The fat should about half fill the skillet. Good cooks just know when it reaches the right temperature – amateurs use a thermometer. Drain the chicken pieces and dredge them in flour seasoned with pepper and salt. Fry until golden on all sides, then drain on wire racks. Paper towels will only keep the chicken greasy. You are looking for a crispy outside and a tender, juicy inside. Maybe after 3 or 4 generations you’ll get it right. Serve with corn on the cob, cole slaw, potato salad, and cornbread.