Sep 292019
 

Today is the birthday (1758) of Horatio Nelson, aka 1st Viscount Nelson, aka 1st Duke of Bronté, KB,  a Royal Navy officer still well known for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of his right arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Nelson was born into a moderately prosperous Norfolk family and joined the navy through the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling, a high-ranking naval officer himself. Nelson rose rapidly through the ranks and served with leading naval commanders of the period before obtaining his own command at the age of 20 in 1778. He developed a reputation in the service through his personal valor and firm grasp of tactics but suffered periods of illness and unemployment after the end of the American War of Independence. The outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars allowed Nelson to return to service, where he was particularly active in the Mediterranean. He fought in several minor engagements off Toulon and was noteworthy in the capture of Corsica and subsequent diplomatic duties with the Italian states. In 1797, he distinguished himself while in command of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

Shortly after the battle, Nelson took part in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where the attack was defeated and the loss of his right arm forced him to return to England to recuperate. The following year he won a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of the Nile and remained in the Mediterranean to support the Kingdom of Naples against a French invasion. In 1801 he was dispatched to the Baltic and won another victory, this time over the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen (where he legendarily put his telescope to his blind eye and refused to take account of the admiral’s signal to discontinue action – “turning a blind eye”).  He subsequently commanded the blockade of the French and Spanish fleets at Toulon and, after their escape, chased them to the West Indies and back but failed to bring them to battle. After a brief return to England he took over the Cádiz blockade in 1805. On 21st October 1805, the Franco-Spanish fleet came out of port, and Nelson’s fleet engaged them at the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle was Britain’s greatest naval victory but during the action Nelson, aboard HMS Victory, was fatally wounded by a French sharpshooter. His body was brought back to England where he was accorded a state funeral.

Nelson’s death at Trafalgar secured his position as one of Britain’s most heroic figures. The significance of the victory and his death during the battle led to his signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty”, being regularly quoted, paraphrased and referenced up to the modern day. Numerous monuments, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, and the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh, have been created in his memory and his legacy remains highly influential.

Trafalgar was a major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars because without a fleet, Napoleon could not defend his flotilla of boats packed with soldiers and ready to cross the English Channel to invade England. Britain, by contrast, with its complete control of the seas, could easily dispatch troops and materiel to the continent at will. After Trafalgar, Napoleon had to shift his goals substantially, and, in hindsight, his ultimate doom was cast.

As a teen I was a huge naval buff, with no end of interest in Nelson. It’s rather sad that I could have written full essays on all the naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars, yet not one came up on my O-level or A-level history papers which covered the period.  Fictional captains such as Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey who are thinly disguised versions of Nelson in some ways, while they replicate his naval skills, are not at all like him temperamentally. His narcissism was well known to all, and may well have caused his demise in battle.  He had several prominent stars on the  breast of his uniform, and going into battle he refused to cover them up – making him a clear target on the quarterdeck. Early 19th century muskets were not terribly accurate, but it was only a matter of time before a marksman aloft in an enemy ship picked him off.  If he had worn a plain blue coat, he might well have been spared.

His publicly conducted affair with Lady Hamilton while both he and she were married was a notorious scandal which he made no effort to hide.  My take on the matter is that his marriage to Fanny, which was childless, was an expedience, and his affair with Lady Hamilton, which produced a daughter, was genuine love.  His lack of tact or discretion in regards to the affair were almost certainly an outcome of his self-assured vanity.

Before Trafalgar, Nelson put in a special order for raisins and suet, strongly suggesting that the sailors had spotted dick for dinner before heading into battle.  You’ll find the recipe here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/trafalgar-day/  where I celebrate Trafalgar itself.  I have also made mention many times of the rum ration in the Royal Navy, so here’s a classic West Indies rum cake.

Dec 132017
 

Today is the birthday (1830) of Mathilde Fibiger, noted Danish campaigner for equal rights for women, novelist, and professional telegraph operator. She was born in Copenhagen. Her first novel, Clara Raphael, Tolv Breve (Clara Raphael, Twelve Letters), published in 1851, championed women’s rights. It is the partially autobiographical story of a young woman, Clara Raphael, who works as a governess in the provinces. It is based in part on Fibiger’s experiences as a private tutor on the island of Lolland in 1849. The novel consists largely of letters written by Clara to her friend, Mathilde. Clara’s ideas about women living an independent life run counter to the beliefs of the local population, and she resolves to make women’s emancipation her life objective. The book created a great deal of controversy on its publication in 1851. The Danish literary establishment was sharply divided between those who supported her and those who felt that her ideas were too radical, but they all agreed on the literary merit of her work. She was only 20 when the novel was published, and, in doing so, she was the first public figure in Denmark to champion women’s rights.

Countering public opposition to women’s rights, Fibiger published two pamphlets, “Hvad er Emancipation?” (What is Emancipation?) and “Et Besøg” (A Visit). Her later novels included En Skizze efter det virkelige Liv (A Sketch from Real Life) (1853) and Minona. En Fortaelling (Minona: A Tale) (1854). En Skizze efter det virkelige Liv is the story of two sisters who are orphaned at an early age, and the men with whom they develop relationships. The older sister rejects her suitor, feeling that men are weak, while the younger sister falls in love. Minona created new controversy with its complex plot involving unwed mothers and incest. Minona, the chief character, overcomes her incestuous attraction after converting to Christianity.

While Fibiger’s novels generated critical acclaim, they were not commercially successful, and she began to look for other means to support herself. She supplemented a meager allowance, received from the state, by dressmaking and translating German literary works. In 1863, she began training as a telegraph operator for the Danish State Telegraph service, which had recently decided to hire women as operators under the management of Director Peter Faber. In 1866, she completed her training at the Helsingør telegraph station, and became the first woman to be employed as a telegraph operator in Denmark.

After two years in Helsingør, she was transferred to Nysted in 1869 to manage a newly opened station. Not surprisingly, she encountered resistance from male operators, who saw the employment of women as operators as a threat to their livelihood. In spite of her managerial position, her pay at Nysted was scarcely sufficient to enable her to pay her expenses. The following year, she applied for a transfer to the telegraph station in Aarhus.

She continued to experience difficulties in Aarhus, where the station manager had opposed her assignment. The problems she experienced in her telegraphic work began to affect her health. She died in Aarhus in 1872 at the age of 41. She is remembered today in Denmark not only as a pioneering feminist who wrote in support of women’s rights, but also as the woman who opened the door for the employment of women in the Danish State Telegraph service.

Because of her prominence in early efforts in Denmark to gain equal rights for women, the Dansk Kvindesamfund (Danish Women’s Society) created Mathildeprisen (The Mathilde Prize) in her honor. The Mathilde Prize was established in 1970 and is awarded to both men and women in recognition of work that advances gender equality. Recipients of the prize includes Suzanne Brøgger, Joan-søstrene, Kenneth Reinicke, Anja Andersen, and Anja C. Andersen.

Also, a small garden square adjacent to the Women’s Museum in central Aarhus is named Mathilde Fibigers Have in her honor, and a Danish stamp was issued recognizing her importance in Danish history.

Danish cuisine tends to be a bit on the basic side even though there is a strong emphasis on good, natural flavors and local ingredients. Denmark is world famous for its butter and pork products, dairying and pig farming having been natural complements for centuries. Stegt flæsk med persillesovs, pork belly with parsley sauce, as of 2014 is the official national dish of Denmark, after a popular vote. You don’t really need a recipe, but I’ll give you one. Stegt flæsk literally translates as fried pork, but the pork in question is pork belly. Some people translate flæsk as bacon, but that is incorrect. Stegt flæsk uses either plain or salt cured pork belly, but never smoked. The difficulty in many countries is getting plain pork bellies.  When I lived in New York I used to get them from butchers in Chinatown. The pork slices need to be about ¼ inch thick. Nowadays, Danish cooks often roast the pork slices in the oven, but traditionally it was fried, and that’s how I prepare it.

Stegt flæsk med persillesovs

Ingredients

600 g sliced pork belly
1 kg potatoes
30g butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk (approx.)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and white pepper

Instructions

Boil the potatoes whole until they are soft (about 20 minutes). I like to use small potatoes that can be served whole. I boil them with skins on and then peel them after they have cooked.

Dry the pork thoroughly and season it with salt and pepper to taste. If it is salt cured it will not need more salt. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and fry the pork in batches, turning frequently until they are golden and crispy. Pat off excess fat with paper towels and keep warm in the oven.

Make a white roux with the butter and flour. Begin by melting the butter over low heat in a pan. When it has melted, but before it starts to bubble, add the flour and whisk to combine. Do not let the roux take on any color. Add a little milk and whisk well to blend. Continue adding milk a little at a time and whisking over low heat. It will be very thick at first, and will still be thick when you have added all the milk.  Let it simmer gently for a few minutes, then add the parsley, plus salt and white pepper to taste. As far as I am concerned, you cannot add too much parsley.

Serve slices of pork belly with the parsley sauce poured over the potatoes.

Velbekomme

Apr 022016
 

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Today is the birthday (1805) of Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author who was a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, but best remembered for what in Danish are called eventyr, sometimes “fairy-tales” in English. I prefer to call them “fantasies.” In Danish “eventyr” has the cognate root meaning of “adventure,” and can also be translated as “fantastic tales” or “tales of fantasy.” Andersen’s tales, which have been translated into more than 125 languages, have become culturally embedded in the West’s collective consciousness, readily accessible to children, but presenting lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity for all readers.

Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark. He was an only child. Andersen’s father, who had received an elementary education, introduced Andersen to literature, reading to him The Arabian Nights. Andersen’s mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, was uneducated and worked as a washerwoman following his father’s death in 1816; she remarried in 1818. Andersen was sent to a local school for poor children where he received a basic education and was forced to support himself, working as an apprentice for a weaver and, later, for a tailor. At 14, he moved to Copenhagen to seek employment as an actor. Having an excellent soprano voice, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but his voice soon changed. A colleague at the theater told him that he considered Andersen a poet. Taking the suggestion seriously, Andersen began to focus on writing.

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Jonas Collin, director of the Royal Danish Theatre, felt a great affection for Andersen and sent him to a grammar school in Slagelse, persuading King Frederick VI to pay for part of his education. Andersen had already published his first story, “The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave” (1822). Though not a keen student, he also attended school at Elsinore until 1827.

He later said his years in school were the darkest and most bitter of his life. At one school, he lived at his schoolmaster’s home. There he was abused in order “to improve his character”, he was told. He later said the faculty had discouraged him from writing in general, causing him to go into a state of depression. Among other things, he was dyslexic, which is evident from his autograph manuscripts, which editors cleaned up prior to publication.

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A very early tale by Andersen, called “The Tallow Candle” (Danish: Tællelyset), was discovered in a Danish archive in October 2012. The story, written in the 1820s, was about a candle who did not feel appreciated. It was written while Andersen was still in school and dedicated to a benefactor, in whose family’s possession it remained until it turned up among other family papers in a suitcase in a local archive.

In 1829, Andersen enjoyed considerable success with the short story “A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager.” Its protagonist meets characters ranging from Saint Peter to a talking cat. Andersen followed this success with a theatrical piece, Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower, and a short volume of poems. Though he made little progress writing and publishing immediately thereafter, in 1833 he received a small traveling grant from the king, enabling him to set out on the first of many journeys through Europe. At Jura, near Le Locle, Switzerland, Andersen wrote the story “Agnete and the Merman”. He spent an evening in the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante the same year, inspiring the name, “The Bay of Fables”. In October 1834, he arrived in Rome. Andersen’s travels in Italy were reflected in his first novel, an autobiography titled The Improviser (Improvisatoren) which was published in 1835, receiving instant acclaim.

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His initial attempts at writing eventyr were revisions of stories that he heard as a child. Andersen then brought this genre to a new level by writing a vast number of tales that were both bold and original. Initially they were not met with widespread acclaim, due partly to the difficulty in translating them and capturing his genius for humor and dark pathos.

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It was during 1835 that Andersen published the first two installments of his immortal Fairy Tales (Eventyr). More stories, completing the first volume, were published in 1837. The collection comprises nine tales, including “The Tinderbox”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “Thumbelina”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The quality of these stories was not immediately recognized, and they sold poorly. At the same time, Andersen enjoyed more success with two novels, O.T. (1836) and Only a Fiddler (1837). The latter was reviewed favorably by the young Søren Kierkegaard.

After a visit to Sweden in 1837, Andersen became inspired by Scandinavism and committed himself to writing a poem that would convey the relatedness of Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians. It was in July 1839, during a visit to the island of Funen, that Andersen first wrote the text of his poem, Jeg er en Skandinav (“I am a Scandinavian”). Andersen composed the poem to capture “the beauty of the Nordic spirit, the way the three sister nations have gradually grown together”, as part of a pan-Scandinavian national anthem. Composer Otto Lindblad set the poem to music, and the composition was published in January 1840. Its popularity peaked in 1845, after which it was seldom sung.

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Andersen returned to the eventyr genre in 1838 with another collection, Fairy Tales Told for Children. New Collection. First Booklet (Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Ny Samling), which consists of “The Daisy”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, and “The Wild Swans”.

1845 was a breakthrough for Andersen with the publication of four different translations of his tales. “The Little Mermaid” appeared in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. It was followed by a second volume, Wonderful Stories for Children. Two other volumes enthusiastically received were A Danish Story Book and Danish Fairy Tales and Legends. A review that appeared in the London journal The Athenæum (February 1846) said of Wonderful Stories, “This is a book full of life and fancy; a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.” Andersen continued to write eventyr, and published them in installments until 1872. He also liked to make paper cuts as illustrations:

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In Andersen’s early life, his private journal records his refusal to have sexual relations. Andersen often fell in love with unattainable women, and many of his stories are interpreted as references. At one point, he wrote in his diary: “Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!” A girl named Riborg Voigt was the unrequited love of Andersen’s youth. A small pouch containing a long letter from Riborg was found on Andersen’s chest when he died, several decades after he first fell in love with her, and after he supposedly fell in love with others. Other disappointments in love included Sophie Ørsted, the daughter of the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted, and Louise Collin, the youngest daughter of his benefactor Jonas Collin. One of his stories, “The Nightingale”, was written as an expression of his passion for Jenny Lind and became the inspiration for her nickname, the “Swedish Nightingale”. Andersen was often shy around women and had extreme difficulty in proposing to Lind. When Lind was boarding a train to go to an opera concert, Andersen gave Lind a letter of proposal. Her feelings towards him were not the same; she saw him as a brother, writing to him in 1844: “farewell… God bless and protect my brother is the sincere wish of his affectionate sister, Jenny”.

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Andersen certainly experienced same-sex love as well. He wrote to Edvard Collin: “I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench… my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.” Collin, who preferred women, wrote in his own memoir: “I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.” Likewise, Anderson’s infatuation with Danish dancer Harald Scharff and Carl Alexander, the young hereditary duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, did not result in any relationships.

In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of his bed and was severely hurt; he never recovered. Soon afterward, he started to show signs of liver cancer. He died on 4 August 1875, in a house called Rolighed (literally: calmness), near Copenhagen, the home of his close friends, the banker Moritz Melchior and his wife. Shortly before his death, Andersen had consulted a composer about the music for his funeral, saying: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.” His body was interred in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen.

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You get two recipes today, one for an open faced sandwich (Smørrebrød) designed by a Danish chef using Anderson’s favorite meats, and his favorite raspberry slices (Hindbærsnitter), which he liked to eat with coffee. For the latter use the best raspberry preserves, preferably homemade. If you use store bought, add some extra crushed fresh raspberries. The commonest topping is hundreds and thousands, but some cooks prefer chopped nuts or chopped raspberries.

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Hans Christian Andersen Smørrebrød

The image here gives the basic idea. Spread a slice of dark Danish rye bread with butter. Top with crisply fried Danish bacon. On one half place slices of liverwurst followed by a slice of beef aspic. On the other side place sliced tomatoes, then shavings of fresh horseradish. Garnish with chopped, fresh parsley.

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Hindbærsnitter

Ingredients

Pastry

350g plain flour
200g cold butter
125g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla pod seeds
salt
1 egg, beaten

Filling

200g raspberry jam
250g icing sugar
Toppings (chopped nuts, freeze dried raspberries, hundreds-and-thousands)

Instructions

Put the cold butter, cubed, flour and sugar into a food processor and pulse about 8 to 10 times. Add the egg, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, and pulse again until the dough is smooth and holds together.

Divide the dough in two, wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out each piece of dough to a 25 x 25 cm square. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and place one square of dough on each. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F

Bake the pastry until golden (10-12 minutes, depending in your oven), then remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly for just a few minutes.

Meanwhile add the icing sugar to a bowl and incrementally add 2-4 tablespoons of hot water. Stir until it has a thick consistency.  You want it spreadable but not runny.

Spread the raspberry jam on one of the pastry sheets. Line up the second pastry sheet on top. Spread the icing on the top sheet (not too thick), and immediately sprinkle with the topping of your choice.

Put the pastry back into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more to completely harden.

Using a very sharp knife trim the pastry into an even square, then cut it into bars. You can make 10 to 16 depending on the size you want.