Oct 182016
 

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Today is International Necktie Day which is celebrated primarily in Croatia, but also in various cities around the world such as Dublin, Tübingen, Como, Tokyo, Sydney and other towns. The celebration is not of major importance anywhere, of course, but it has a certain resonance in Croatia because wearing the original version of ties began in military regiments in Croatia and spread outward, first to France, then to the rest of Europe and beyond – evolving along the way. The original word for a tie in many European languages, cognates of “cravat,” are also cognates of the Croatian word for a Croatian – Hrvat. Hrvat actually sounds a more like “cravat” when spoken than might appear when written because the /h/ is guttural and the /r/ contains a slight vowel sound.  Ties these days are nothing like their original Croatian version, and they are finally going out of fashion; but the trend is desperately slow. I am going to use the word “tie” here, not “necktie.” “Necktie” is American English, and even though my spelling these days is generally American English rather than British English, because I lived and worked as a writer and professor in the United States for 35 years, and my vocabulary is not British at all (I say “elevator,” “apartment,” “hood” and “trunk” (for a car)), I just can’t bring myself to say “necktie.”

Soldiers in traditional military uniforms attend a guard exchanging ceremony at St. Mark's Square in Zagreb

The modern fashion of the tie traces ultimately back to the 17th century. The passage of the tie from Croatia to France (thence beyond) is a bit murky, but common legend has it that Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier in French service visited Paris during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) in celebration of a hard-fought victory over the Ottoman Empire. There, the soldiers were presented as glorious heroes to the boy king Louis XIV, and it so happened that the officers of this regiment were wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs fashioned of silk around their necks. In imitation, Louis XIV began wearing a lace cravat around 1646, when he was seven, and set a fashion for French nobility which then started a fashion craze in Europe of both men and women wearing pieces of fabric around their necks. The first lace cravats, or jabots, took time and effort to arrange stylishly. They were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow. From there the tie evolved.

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In 1715, another kind of neckwear, the stocks, made its appearance. The term originally referred to a leather collar, laced at the back, worn by soldiers to promote holding the head high in a military bearing. The leather stock also afforded some protection to the major blood vessels of the neck from saber or bayonet attacks.

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Stock ties were initially just a small piece of muslin folded into a narrow band wound a few times round the shirt collar and secured from behind with a pin. It was fashionable for the men to wear their hair long, past shoulder length. The ends were tucked into a black silk bag worn at the nape of the neck. This was known as the bag-wig hairstyle, and the neckwear worn with it was the stock. The solitaire was a variation of the bag wig. This form had matching ribbons stitched around the bag. After the stock was in place, the ribbons would be brought forward and tied in a large bow in front of the wearer.

Some time in the late 18th century, cravats began to make an appearance again, and this fashion recall is usually attributed to a group of young men called the macaronis (of “Yankee Doodle” fame). These were young Englishmen who returned from Europe bringing with them fashion from Italy. At this time, there was also much interest in the way to tie a proper cravat and this led to a series of publications. This began with Neckclothitania,  a book that contained instructions and illustrations on how to tie 14 different cravats. Soon after, the immense skill required to tie the cravat in certain styles, quickly became a mark of a man’s elegance and wealth. It was also the first book to use the word tie in association with neckwear.

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It was about this time that black stocks made their appearance. Their popularity eclipsed the white cravat, except for formal and evening wear. These remained popular through to the 1850s. At this time, the neckerchief gained in popularity. It was often held in place by slipping the ends through a finger or scarf ring at the neck instead of using a knot. This became classic sailor neckwear which is still common. It is also common for Boy Scouts, and as a teen I had a large collection of both neckerchiefs and rings (called “woggles”).

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, more people wanted neckwear that was easy to put on, was comfortable, and would last an entire workday. Hence ties were designed long and thin that were easy to knot and did not come undone over the course of a long day. This is the tie design that is still worn today. Other styles of neckware also evolved in the 19th century including the bowtie, which is a simplification of the bow of the cravat strings, and the Ascot tie worn originally during the day at the races at Ascot.

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Since the tie has origins in Croatia, a Croatian recipe is appropriate. The cuisine of Croatia is quite eclectic with regions varying considerably. In a broad sense it can be divided into inland cooking and coastal recipes. My travels in Croatia have focused on the Dalmatian coast and its islands so I am more familiar with those traditions than inland ones. I’ve been more than content with feasts of fried whitebait and squid along with black risotto. But the ubiquitous dish which you will be served everywhere, and which I love, is salata od hobotnice – octopus salad. To make this dish well is no small feat because octopus is notoriously hard to cook so that it is not tough and leathery.

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To cook octopus well you should start with frozen octopus. The freezing begins the tenderizing process. Thaw the octopus and heat a pot of water and white wine to a bare simmer. Some cooks believe that putting the wine cork in with the liquid helps tenderizing, but I think this is just a Croatian superstition. Do it if it makes you feel good. I don’t. Simmer the octopus until it is just cooked and no longer (about 10 minutes per pound). Longer cooking makes the octopus tough and there is no recovering once this happens. Remove the octopus from the poaching liquid and when cool enough to handle rub off the skin. Chill completely and then cut into bite-sized servings. I like to cut the flesh into paper thin rounds to ensure extra tenderness. Toss the octopus with chopped greens, green onions, and tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil, and serve well chilled with crusty bread.

Jun 252014
 

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[Once again, struggling to keep my head above water amidst my visa tribulations among other things. I am so sorry for the short post. I am very fond of Croatia and Croatian cuisine, so I cannot let this day pass unmarked. I also do not want to disappoint my faithful readers.]

Today is Statehood Day (Dan državnosti) in Croatia, an annual holiday to celebrate the country’s 1991 declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Statehood Day is an official holiday in Croatia. After the independence referendum held on May 19th, 1991, the Croatian Parliament formally proclaimed independence with Ustavna odluka o suverenosti i samostalnosti Republike Hrvatske – the “Constitutional decision on sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Croatia.” Statehood Day used to be May 30, marking the day when in 1990 the first post-Communist multi-party Parliament was constituted. There was some public controversy regarding which date is more suitable for the day to celebrate statehood. Since 2002, June 25 has prevailed as Statehood Day, and May 30 is marked as a minor holiday. This holiday is not to be confused with Croatia’s Independence Day, which is marked each year on October 8. Croatia declared independence on June 25, but as per the Brioni Agreement, a three-month moratorium was placed on the implementation of the decision, and the government did not cut all remaining ties with Yugoslavia until October.

Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia at the same time, and its Statehood Day coincides with Croatian Statehood Day, on June 25.

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One small tidbit about Croatian culture to amuse. The European gentleman’s fashion of the cravat originated in the 1630’s and was of Croatian military origin. In the reign of Louis XIII of France, Croatian mercenaries were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duke of Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de’ Medici. The traditional Croat military kit aroused Parisian curiosity because of the unusual scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats’ necks; ranging from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers to the fine linens and silks of the officers. The sartorial word “cravat” derives from the French cravate, a corrupt French pronunciation of Croate i.e. Croatian (Hrvatska in Croatian). The Spanish word for a neck tie is a cognate – corbata. Croatia these days celebrates Cravat Day on October 18.

Note also that Croatian is written using the Roman alphabet, whereas their close neighbors, the Serbs, use the Cyrillic alphabet. Croatian and Serbian are very close, mutually intelligible, languages, but there is zero love lost between Croats and Serbs. Hence they use any means possible to distinguish one from the other.

Croatian cuisine is quite varied in general, but is also known as a cuisine of regions because various areas of Croatia have their own traditions based on their history. The most notable divide is between the coastal area and the inner mainland.  Mainland cuisine is characterized by earlier Slavic traditions combined with more recent contact with neighboring cultures – Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish primarily – using lard for cooking, and spices such as black pepper, paprika, and garlic. The coastal region bears the influences of conquerors – Greek, Roman and Illyrian – as well as of later Mediterranean influences – Italian (especially Venetian) and French, using olive oil, and herbs and spices such as rosemary, sage, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, lemon and orange rind. Coastal cuisine is dominated by seafood; the islands, in particular have few animals for meat. Goats and sheep are the most common.

How I wish I could regale you with tales of fabulous meals on my trips to the Dalmatian coast and islands. How about being taken to a deserted island in the Adriatic by a fisherman who caught fish that morning and roast them over a driftwood fire on a beach of sparkling sand beside shimmering warm waters? Or being served goat’s milk by my host on Lastovo island for breakfast, still warm from the udder? Freshly pressed olive oil, new made wine, octopus salad, deep fried squid . . . the list goes on. I never have managed yet to get Dalmatian goat tripe stew in Croatia because goats are not butchered often. They are kept mainly for their milk and wool. One day.

Here is a recipe for black risotto, which is a specialty of Dubrovnik (marvelous old town). The black coloration comes from squid or cuttlefish ink. I make it when I can in a very simple way by cooking rice with canned squid in its own ink, which is quite easy to find in good supermarkets. Here is a more authentic recipe.

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©Dalmatian Black Risotto

Ingredients

2lbs/1 kg squid or cuttlefish with ink sacks
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
parsley, chopped
1lb/450 g short grain/Arborio rice
extra virgin olive oil
white wine
fish stock
salt and pepper

Instructions

Clean the squid or cuttlefish (or buy them pre-cleaned). The basic process involves cutting off the head and tentacles, then popping the head off. Remove the contents of the body, and pull off the skin. Cut the body into thin rings.

Bring a pot of fish stock to a gentle simmer.

Sauté the onion in a little olive oil until translucent in a large, heavy skillet. Add the squid or cuttlefish and rice, and cook gently for about 5 to 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Make sure all of the rice is well coated with olive oil. Do not let the ingredients take on any color. Add the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper to taste, ink, a splash or two of wine, and 2 ladles of the hot fish stock.

Here is where long experience comes in. There is no way to explain this process in words. Keep the stock in the skillet at a low simmer and let it evaporate as well as be absorbed by the rice. When the skillet is almost dry, add another ladle of stock, all the while stirring the rice continuously with a wooden spoon. It will probably take 20 minutes or more to cook the rice in this fashion. Ladle, stir, dry, ladle, stir, dry . . . until the stock in the skillet becomes thick and creamy, and the rice softens. After about 15 minutes you can begin biting on a grain of rice to test it. When it is almost cooked, add one more ladle of stock, stir so that you have a creamy, but not over-runny, mix and remove from the heat. Let it sit covered for 5 minutes and serve in shallow bowls with a green salad. Some people like to sprinkle the risotto with grating cheese. Do it if you wish. I think cheese compromises the deep flavors of the squid and ink.

Jun 072014
 

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Today is the birthday (1778) of George Bryan “Beau” Brummell  an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men’s fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established a mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored garments. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and, above all, immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat. Brummell is credited with introducing, and establishing as fashion, the forerunner of the modern men’s suit, worn with a tie. He claimed he took five hours a day to dress, and recommended that boots be polished with champagne. His general lifestyle became known as “dandyism.”

Brummell was born in London, the younger son of William Brummell, a politician, of Donnington Grove in Berkshire. The family was middle class, but the elder Brummell was ambitious for his son to become a gentleman, and young George was raised with that understanding. Brummell was educated at Eton and made his precocious mark on fashion there when he not only modernized the white stock, or cravat, that was the mark of the Eton boy, but added a gold buckle to it. He went from Eton to Oxford University, where, by his own example, he made cotton stockings and dingy cravats a thing of the past. While an undergraduate at Oriel College in 1793, he competed for the Chancellor’s Prize for Latin Verse, coming second to Edward Copleston, who was later to become provost of his college. He left the university after only a year at the age of sixteen.

In June 1794 Brummell joined the illustrious Tenth Royal Hussars as a cornet, or lowest rank of commissioned officer, and soon after had his nose broken by a kick from a horse. His father died in 1795, by which time George had been promoted to lieutenant. His father had left an inheritance of £65,000, of which Brummell was entitled to a third. Although under normal circumstances this would be a substantial sum, it was inadequate for the expenses of an aspiring officer in the personal regiment of the Prince of Wales. The officers, many of whom would be inheriting noble titles and lands “wore their estates upon their backs – some of them before they had inherited the paternal acres.” Officers in any cavalry regiment were required to provide their own mounts and uniforms and be responsible for mess bills, but the 10th in particular had elaborate and almost unending variations of uniform. In addition, their mess expenses were enormous as the regiment did not stint itself on either banquets or entertainment.

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Although a junior officer, Brummell took the regiment by storm, fascinating the prince by the force of his personality. He was allowed to miss parade, shirk his duties, and in essence, do exactly as he pleased. Within three years, by 1796, he was made a captain, to the combined envy and disgust of the older officers, who felt that: “our general’s friend was now the general.” When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester he immediately resigned his commission, citing the city’s poor reputation, lack of atmosphere, and an absence of culture and civility.

Although he was now a civilian, Brummell’s friendship with, and influence over, the Prince continued. His simple yet elegant and understated manner of dress, coupled with his natural wit, gained him entry to the Regent’s royal society. The life and the daily routine of most aristocratic men of the time included making one’s toilette and shopping in the morning; riding in Hyde Park or making the round of gentlemen’s clubs in the afternoon; followed by the theater, gambling at Almack’s or a private party, or visiting the brothels in the evening. He took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair and for a time managed to avoid the nightly gaming and other extravagances needed to move in such elevated circles. Where he refused to economize was on his dress: When asked how much it would cost to keep a single man in clothes, he was said to have replied: “Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800.” That amount is approximately £103,000 ($173,000) in today’s currency; the average wage for a craftsman at that time was £1 a week.

Brummell put into practice the principles of harmony of shape and contrast of colors with such a pleasing result that men of superior rank sought his professional opinion on their dress. The Duke of Bedford once did this concerning a coat. Brummell examined his Grace with his accustomed cool impertinence, turned him about, scanned him with scrutinizing, contemptuous eye, and then taking the lapel between his dainty finger and thumb, he exclaimed in a tone of pitying wonder, “Bedford do you call this thing a coat?”

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His personal habits, such as a fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and daily bathing exerted an influence on the upper echelons of polite society, who began to do likewise. Previously people bathed only a few times per year, and used heavy colognes and perfumes to hide body odors. He also insisted upon freshly laundered shirts and linens. Enthralled, the Prince would spend hours in Brummell’s dressing room, witnessing the progress of his friend’s lengthy morning toilette.

Unfortunately, Brummell’s wealthy friends had a less than commendable influence on him. He soon began spending and gambling as though his fortunes were as extensive as theirs. Such liberal outlay began to deplete his capital rapidly, and he found it increasingly difficult to maintain his prestige, although he could still float a line of credit on account of his connexions. This changed on July 1813 at a masquerade ball at Watier’s private club, when Brummell, who was one of the hosts, openly antagonized the Prince Regent, thereby forcing society to choose between them.

Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier’s, dubbed “the Dandy Club” by Byron. All four were hosts at a ball where the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint but then “cut” Brummell and Mildmay by staring them in the face without speaking to them. This provoked Brummell’s most famous remark, “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?” The incident, finalizing the long-developing rift between them, is generally dated to 1811, the year the Prince became Regent and began abandoning all his old Whig friends. Normally, the loss of royal favor was doom, but Brummell ran as much on the approval and friendship of other rulers of the several fashion circles. He became the anomaly of a society favorite flourishing without a patron, still in charge of fashion and courted by large segments of society.

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In 1816 Brummell fled to France to escape debtor’s prison, owing thousands of pounds. Usually Brummell’s gambling obligations, as “debts of honor,” were paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager, dated March 1815 in White’s betting book, which was marked “not paid, 20th January, 1816”

He lived the remainder of his life in French exile, spending ten years in Calais without an official passport before acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen via the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester, only in the reign of William IV. This provided him with a small annuity. This appointment lasted for two years before Brummell recommended that the Foreign Office abolish the consulate at Caen in the hope of being moved to a more profitable position elsewhere. The consulate was abolished but no new position was granted. Brummell rapidly ran out of money and was forced into debtors’ prison by his creditors. It was only after the charitable intervention of his friends in England that he was able to secure release. Brummell died penniless and mentally impaired from syphilis at Le Bon Sauveur Asylum on the outskirts of Caen in 1840 (sadly, I note, on my birthday).

In literature, Brummell left a mark. Scarcely had he left England than a collection of witticisms ascribed to him and of anecdotes about him appeared under the title “Brummelliana” and was republished many times in the following decades. This began with the notorious story of his enquiring the identity of his companion’s ‘fat friend.’ William Hazlitt borrowed the same title of “Brummelliana” for an unsympathetic essay published in 1828, referring to some of these stories and repeating others uncollected there. Dandyism also came under attack in George Robert Wythen Baxter’s satirical essay “Kiddyism,” published in humorous journals from 1832 onwards, which culminates in a set of satirical aphorisms purporting to be yet more “Brummelliana”.

Further fictitious aphorisms were published in France by Honoré de Balzac in the course of a series of articles published under the title “Traité de la vie élégante” (1830). These sayings were supposed to have arisen during an interview with Brummell in Bologna, rather than Calais, and epitomize his view of ‘the elegant life’. In the following decade two more books were dedicated to confirming Brummell as a cult figure. In England there was Captain Jesse’s two volume Life of George Brummell (1844), the first biography devoted to him. In France there was the influential essay of Barbey d’Aurevilly, “Du dandysme et de George Brummell” (1845), which seeks to define the essence of dandyism through a study of his career and opinions.

Brummell was to appear as a character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1896 historical novel Rodney Stone. In this, the title character’s uncle, Charles Tregellis, is the center of the London fashion world, until Brummell ultimately supplants him. Tregellis’s subsequent death from mortification serves as a deus ex machina in that it resolves Rodney Stone’s family poverty.

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In the United States, Brummell’s life was dramatized in an 1890 stage play in four acts by Clyde Fitch with Richard Mansfield as the ‘Beau’. This in turn was adapted for the 1924 silent movie with John Barrymore and Mary Astor. Another play about him, authored by Bertram P Matthews, is only remembered because it had incidental music written for it by Edward Elgar. It was staged at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in November 1928, with Elgar himself conducting the orchestra on its first night. Only the minuet from this is now performed. Brummell’s later years were the setting for Ron Hutchinson’s 2001 two-handed play The Beau (originally Beau Brummell), which following a UK national tour played for one month at Theatre Royal Haymarket, starring Peter Bowles as Brummell.

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Earlier films included a 10-minute movie by the Vitagraph Company of America (1913), based on a Booth Tarkington story, and the 1913 “Beau Brummell and his Bride,” a short comedy made by the Edison Company. Brummell’s life was also made the subject of a 1931 three-act operetta by Reynaldo Hahn, later broadcast by Radio-Lille (1963). In 1937 there was a radio drama on Lux Radio Theater with Robert Montgomery as Brummell. Another film, “Beau Brummell,” was made in 1954 with Stewart Granger playing the title role and Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Patricia Belham. There were also two television dramas: the sixty-minute “So war Herr Brummell” (Süddeutscher Rundfunk, 1967) and the UK “Beau Brummell: This Charming Man” (2006).

Georgette Heyer, author of a number of Regency romance novels, included Brummell as a character in her 1935 novel Regency Buck. He is also referred to, or figures as a minor character, in the work of later writers of this genre. More recently, Brummell was made the detective-hero of a series of period mysteries by Californian novelist Rosemary Stevens, starting with Death on a Silver Tray in 2000. These are written as if related by their hero. Another American reinterpretation of his character appears in Cecilia Ryan’s homoerotic novella The Sartorialist (2012).

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Brummell’s name became associated with style and good looks and was therefore borrowed for a variety of products or alluded to in songs and poetry. One example was the paint color Beau Brummel Brown, used exclusively on the 1931 Oldsmobile. In 1934 a rhododendron hybridized by Lionel de Rothschild was named after the dandy. Then during the 1940s and 1950s watchmaker LeCoultre marketed a Beau Brummel watch with a minimalist design and no numbers.

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T. S. Eliot’s poem about “Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town” refers to him as the “Brummell of Cats,” an allusion taken up in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, the 1981 musical based on Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Around that time other allusions to Brummell appeared in pop and rock lyrics, such as Billy Joel’s 1980 hit, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” but the name had already been adopted by rock bands in the 1960s: the faux-British Invasion band The Beau Brummels, and Beau Brummell Esquire and His Noble Men, the name used by South African born Michael Bush for his English rock group.

“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.” — Beau Brummel

Hannah Glasse’s 1747 volume The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy is the classic Georgian cookbook. I note that she appears to be the first cookbook author to include a recipe for “something in a hole” – now usually toad in a hole (sausages baked in an egg batter). I have already dealt with Isabella Beeton’s kidneys in a hole and mutton in a hole (St George, 23 April 2014). Glasse’s recipe is for pigeons in a hole.

A lady at dinner, observing that Brummel did not take any vegetables, asked him whether such was his general habit, and if he never ate any. He replied, “Yes, madam, I once ate a pea.” Brummell was once asked why a matrimonial prospect had failed. “Why what could I do, my good fellow, but cut the connexion? I discovered that Lady Mary actually ate cabbage!” So, I won’t give you a recipe with vegetables.

Here is a recipe for ragout of oysters. I don’t think you need a modern interpretation. You just need to know that “?” is not an “f” as many people now mistakenly believe, but the so-called “long s” – it has no cross bar. It was eventually replaced by the short “s” in typography (originally used only as a final), to avoid the confusion especially in blotchy printing. Raspings are toasted breadcrumbs.

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A ragoo of oy?ters

OPEN twenty large oy?ters, take them out of their liquor, ?ave the liquor, and dip the oy?ters in a batter made thus : take two eggs, beat them well, a little lemon-peel grated, a little nutmeg grated, a blade of mace pounded fine, a little par?ley chopped fine ; beat all together with a little flour, have ready ?ome butter or dripping in a ?tew-pan ; when it boils, dip in your oy?ters, one by one, into the batter, and fry them of a fine brown ; then with an egg-?lice take them out, and lay them in a di?h before the fire. Pour the fat out of the pan, and ?hake a little flour over the bottom of the pan, then rub a little piece of butter, as big as a ?mall wallnut, all over with your knife, whil?t it is over the fire; then pour in three ?poonfuls of the oy?ter liquor ?trained, one ?poonful of white wine, and a quarter of a pint of gravy ; grate a little nutmeg, ?tir all together, throw in the oy?ters, give the pan a to?s round, and when the ?auce is of a good thickne?s; pour all into the di?h, and garni?h with raspings.