May 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1799) of legendary French author Honoré de Balzac.  His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from an artisan family in Tarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 he set off for Paris with only a Louis coin in his pocket, intent on improving his social standing; by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King’s Council and a Freemason (he had also changed his name to the more noble sounding “Balzac,” his son later adding—without official recognition—the nobiliary particle: “de”). After the Reign of Terror (1793–94), François Balzac was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army. Balzac’s mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family of haberdashers in Paris. Her family’s wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was 18 at the time of the wedding, and François Balzac, 50

Honoré (named after Saint-Honoré of Amiens http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-honore-of-amiens/ ) was the second child born to the Balzacs. Exactly one year before, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. As an infant Balzac was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home. When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a distance from their parents. At age 10 Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for 7 years. His father intentionally gave him little spending money to try to instill in him a sense of a hardscrabble upbringing but it primarily served to make him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.

Balzac had difficulty adapting to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the “alcove”, a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students. (The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: “Remember M. Balzac? I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!”) His time alone, however, gave Balzac the opportunity to read voraciously.

Like Dickens (sometimes called the “English Balzac”), Balzac used scenes of his boyhood in his writing, especially La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. The narrator says : “He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books.”

Balzac often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a “sort of a coma.” In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River. In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous teachers: François Guizot, who later became Prime Minister, Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne who lectured on French and classical literature, and, his favorite, Victor Cousin, who strongly encouraged independent thinking.

After the Sorbonne Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the Law. For three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a family friend. During this time Balzac began to delve the vagaries of human behavior. In Le Notaire (1840), he wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees “the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code.”

In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but he had had enough of the Law. He despaired of being “a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that’s what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite.” In consequence he determined to become a writer.

Balzac’s work habits are legendary, he wrote from 1 am to 8 am every night and sometimes even longer. Balzac could write very rapidly; some of his novels, written with a quill, were composed at about thirty words per minute. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, drinking innumerable cups of strong black coffee. He would often work for 15 hours or more at a stretch, and claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only 3 hours of rest in the middle.

Balzac revised obsessively, covering printer’s proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense both for himself and the publisher. As a result, the finished product quite often was different from the original text.

Balzac died in Paris in 1850, 5 months after marrying Ewelina Hańska, widow of count Hańska, in Russia.  He had never enjoyed good health, but the journey to Russia to finalize his courtship with Ewelina (who was also being courted by Franz Lizst), and his persistent overeating, along with his generally poor personal habits, weakened his system fatally. He showed all the symptoms of heart failure in his final year.

The day he died he had been visited by Victor Hugo, who later served as a pallbearer and eulogist. Balzac is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. At his memorial service, Victor Hugo said, “Today we have people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius.” The funeral was attended by the literary elite of Paris”, including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils,[84] as well as representatives of the Légion d’honneur and other dignitaries. Later, Auguste Rodin created the Monument à Balzac in his honor, and featured him in several smaller busts.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.

First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.

Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

If you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again.

Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.

The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.

And he, like many jaded people, had few pleasures left in life save good food and drink.

Cruelty and fear shake hands together. An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.

Hatred is the vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all their littleness, and make it the pretext of base tyrannies.

After Balzac had closeted himself away for lengthy creative bursts, drinking coffee and eating only fruit and eggs, he would take a break and wolf down vast quantities of food. Once he asked his publisher, Monsieur Werdet, to lunch between writing bouts. According to the food historian Giles MacDonagh, he ate “a hundred Ostend oysters, 12 Pre-Sale mutton cutlets, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridges, a sole Normand, without counting hors d’oeuvres, entremets, fruits etc.”

Balzac sometimes gave dinner parties with a theme. Once he served a meal of nothing but onions: onion soup, his favorite onion puree, onion juice, onion fritters and onions with truffles. His idea, apparently, was to showcase the purgative properties of the vegetable. It worked. All his guests got sick. Maybe if you just make French onion soup you can avoid this fate. I’ve been making classic French onion soup since I was a novice cook, which, if made well, is superb. But you must get  it right. It takes time and patience. This is my recipe from memory which I have played with over the years. It makes about 8 servings, so I don’t make it very often these days. You really shouldn’t make small quantities.

French Onion Soup

Peel 10 sweet white onions, halve them, and finely slice them. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven, over low heat and layer in the onion slices sprinkling salt between each layer. Let the onions sweat down, undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.  After that, stir the onions occasionally until they take on a dark, even, mahogany color. This is the absolutely critical step, and requires patience and attentiveness. You don’t want any of the onions to burn but they must be dark brown. Eventually the onions will reduce to about 2 cups. Ignore cookbooks that say you can brown the onions in 10 minutes or so. This is complete nonsense. Slowly cooked onions take an hour (sometimes longer) to reach this stage.

Add a cup (or more) of dry white wine to cover the onions and turn the heat to high. Reduce the wine to a syrup, then add 5 cups of beef consommé. See the HINTS tab for my recipes. You want this consommé to be of the highest quality. Also add a cup of good quality farm apple cider, and a bouquet garni (your choice of herbs; I use thyme, parsley, marjoram, and bay leaf). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat the soup next day when ready to serve.

Heat the broiler. Cut day old baguette slices into rounds to fit the  mouths of oven-safe soup crocks. Very lightly toast the bread under the broiler on one side only.

Add a little cognac to the soup, and ladle it into the crocks, leaving space for the bread. Place the bread, toasted side down, on top of the soup and spread it with grated Gruyère. Place the crocks under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and toasted.

Mar 172017
 

Today is the birthday (1880) and also, possibly, the date of the death (1912) of Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates, an English army officer, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition led by Scott. I gave a reasonably detailed accounting of the Terra Nova Expedition here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/ — so there’s no need to repeat it.  The members of the Expedition died on their return journey due to an unfortunate combination of errors in judgment and bad luck. There’s no point in rehashing all the details.  No one can doubt the courage of all the men who made it to the pole, and the death of Oates has always stood out in my memory: rightly so. Scott ensured his immortality via his journal.

Oates was born in Putney, London, the son of William and Caroline Oates. His family inherited old money, having had land at Gestingthorpe, Essex, for centuries. His father moved the family there when his children were small after succeeding to the Manor of Over Hall, Gestingthorpe. Oates lived in Putney from 1885–91, from the ages of 5 to 11 at 263 Upper Richmond Road. He was one of the first pupils to attend the prep Willington School around the corner in Colinette Road. He was further educated at Eton College, which he left after less than two years owing to ill health. He then attended an army “crammer” in Eastbourne. His father died of typhoid fever in Madeira in 1896 when Oates was aged 16.

In 1898, Oates was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He saw military service during the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, having been transferred to that regiment as a second lieutenant in May 1900. He took part in operations in the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and Cape Colony. In March 1901, he suffered a gunshot wound to his left thigh which shattered his leg and, when it healed, left it an inch shorter than his right leg. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his actions and was brought to public attention at the time.

He was promoted to lieutenant on 8 February 1902, and left Cape Town for England in June that year, after peace had been signed in South Africa the previous month. He was mentioned in despatches by Lord Kitchener in his final despatch dated 23 June 1902. He was promoted to captain in 1906. He later served in Ireland, Egypt, and India. He was often referred to by the nickname “Titus Oates,” after the notorious perjurer – English humor !! In the history books that I read as a boy he was always called “Titus” and I am sure that part of it had to do with the fact that he was legendarily strong and fit.

In 1910, he applied to join Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, and was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses and, to a lesser extent, his ability to make a financial contribution of £1,000 (over £50,000 in modern currency) towards the expedition. Nicknamed “the soldier” by his fellow expedition members, his role was to look after the nineteen ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole.

Oates disagreed with Scott many times on issues of management of the expedition. ‘Their natures jarred on one another,’ a fellow expedition member recalled. When he first saw the ponies that Scott had brought on the expedition, Oates was horrified at the £5 animals, which he said were too old for the job and ‘a wretched load of crocks.’ He later said: ‘Scott’s ignorance about marching with animals is colossal.’ He also wrote in his diary “Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition….He [Scott] is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere…” However, he also wrote that his harsh words were often a product of the hard conditions. Scott, less harshly, called Oates “the cheery old pessimist” and wrote “The Soldier takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.

Captain Scott, Captain Oates and 14 other members of the expedition set off from their Cape Evans base camp for the South Pole on 1 November 1911. At various pre-determined latitude points during the 895-mile (1,440 km) journey, the support members of the expedition were sent back by Scott in teams until on 4 January 1912, at latitude 87° 32′ S, only the five-man polar party of Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, Edgar Evans and Oates remained to walk the last 167 miles (269 km) to the Pole. On 18 January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, they finally reached the Pole only to discover a tent that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had left behind at their Polheim camp after beating them in the race to be first to the Pole. Inside the tent was a note from Amundsen informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.

Scott’s party faced extremely difficult conditions on the return journey, mainly due to the exceptionally adverse weather, poor food supply, injuries sustained from falls, and the effects of scurvy and frostbite, all slowing their progress. On 17 February 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore glacier, Edgar Evans died, suspected by his companions to be the result of a blow to his head suffered during a fall into a crevasse a few days earlier. Oates’s feet had become severely frostbitten and it has been suggested (but never evidenced) that his war wound had re-opened due to the effects of scurvy. He was certainly weakening faster than the others. In his diary entry of 5th March, Scott wrote “Oates’ feet are in a wretched condition… The poor soldier is very nearly done.”

Oates’ slower progress, coupled with the unwillingness of his three remaining companions to leave him, was causing the party to fall behind schedule. With an average of 65 miles (105 km) between the pre-laid food depots and only a week’s worth of food and fuel provided by each depot, they needed to maintain a march of over 9 miles (14 km) a day to have full rations for the final 400 miles (640 km) of their return journey across the Ross Ice Shelf. However, 9 miles (14 km) was about their best progress any day and this had lately reduced to sometimes only 3 miles (4.8 km) a day due to Oates’ worsening condition. On 15 March, Oates told his companions that he could not go on and proposed that they leave him in his sleeping-bag, which they refused to do. He managed a few more miles that day but his condition worsened that night.

Waking on the morning of 16th March, Oates walked out of the tent into a blizzard, and −40 °F (−40 °C) temperatures, to his death. Scott wrote in his diary, “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.” Oates’ sacrifice, however, made no difference to the eventual outcome.

Scott, Wilson, and Bowers continued onwards for a further 20 miles (32 km) towards the ‘One Ton’ food depot that could save them but were halted at latitude 79°40’S by a fierce blizzard on 20th March. Trapped in their tent by the weather and too weak, cold and malnourished to continue, they eventually died nine days later, only eleven miles short of their objective. Their frozen bodies were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912. Oates’s body was never found. Near where he was presumed to have died, the search party erected a cairn and cross bearing the inscription; “Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L. E. G. Oates, of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912, returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard, to try and save his comrades, beset by hardships.” According to Scott’s diary, before Oates exited the tent and walked to his death, he uttered the words “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

We cannot be sure if Oates survived long enough to actually die on his birthday or succumbed the day before. If he died on his birthday he is in good company.  Shakespeare is often said to have been born and died on the same day (ironically, St George’s Day), but his date of birth is only presumed from his baptismal date. We have a similar problem with the Renaissance painter Raphael. Much more assured cases are Ingrid Bergman, Merle Haggard, Betty Friedan, and FDR. I’m not sure how I feel about dying on my birthday. I think it would be fine as long as I was having a party, surrounded by friends, and well into my 90s.

I think it’s a bit morbid to give a recipe for polar survival food on this date given that malnourishment was one of the causes of the party’s slow progress and ultimate death. Besides, I’ve given quite a few already. Instead let’s be a bit more cheery and think about traditional Essex recipes, the county where the Oates family had their hereditary seat. Many Essex recipes focus on oysters and seafood because of the county’s coastline and (former) abundant fisheries. But Gestingthorpe is well inland in farm country, so a farm recipe is in order.  Essex traditional food is not exactly bright with well-known favorites, but there are a few of note.  Essex meat layer pudding looks like a winner.  I will confess that I have not tried it yet, but I will have a go over the weekend and update the post with photos if I have any success. Right now the problem is that suet is impossible to find in Mantua, and I don’t have a pudding basin. The unusual thing about this pudding is that the suet pastry is layered into it, rather than surrounding the pudding.   Judging from the various recipes I’ve read, you can use whatever meat suits.  A mix of pork, veal, and chicken (or 2 out of the 3) is quite common.  This recipe is my version of one taken from this site — https://www.essextouristguide.co.uk/information/in-the-news/articleid/69/favourite-essex-recipes  It looks trustworthy, but I’ve modified it a bit based on experience with steamed puddings.  You can use ground or chopped meat as you prefer.

Essex Meat Layer Pudding

Ingredients

Pastry:

6 oz. flour
¼ tsp salt
3 oz. shredded suet
¼ cup cold water (approx)

Filling:

1 tbsp butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. minced veal (or chicken)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp celery salt
1 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks,
2 tbsp heavy cream
salt and pepper

Instructions

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix in the suet. Add just enough water to make a stiff but pliable dough. Wrap in foil or greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator whilst you make the filling.

For the filling, sauté the onions in butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden. Add the meats, herbs, seasonings and flour. Continue to sauté for 5 minutes stirring well, then remove the pan from heat. Beat together the egg yolks and cream and add them to the meat mixture. Sauté over low heat for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Butter a 2½ pint pudding basin, line it with foil,  greaseproof paper, or (best) cheesecloth. Butter this lining as well.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼-inch. Cut a small circle to fit the bottom of the basin and put it in place. Spoon on a layer of meat mixture (about 1½-inches deep) then add another circle of dough to fit. (As you proceed you will need to push the scraps of dough together and roll them out again).  Add another layer of meat. Continue until the filling and dough have been used up, finishing with layer of dough. There should be 3 layers of meat mixture. There should be some room at the top of the basin so that the dough can expand while steaming.

Cover the top of the basin with greaseproof paper or pull up the cheesecloth around the top. Then seal the top with foil.  Steam for about 4 hours. [I am a little iffy about this length of time. I will know better when I try it. 3 hours ought to be enough, but 4 hours won’t hurt, especially if you use chopped rather than ground meat.]

Serves 4

Nov 082016
 

NPG D21072,Robert Catesby,probably by; after Adam; Unknown engraver

Today is a largely forgotten day in the saga of the Gunpowder Plot because it is not as dramatic an anniversary as the 5th of November. It was on this date in 1605 that Robert Catesby, the actual leader of the Plot, died in a last ditch effort against 200 armed loyalists at Holbeche House in Staffordshire.  A few years back I posted this about the Gunpowder Plot: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/the-gunpowder-plot/  If you are English you probably don’t need reminding about Guy Fawkes and whatnot. The day set to blow up Parliament was, of course, the 5th of November, but the Plot was uncovered on the night before, and Guy Fawkes was not exactly central. He was the fall guy (literally !!). The real instigator and leader of the Plot was Robert Catesby who tends to be forgotten because, although he set the wheels in motion, he was nowhere to be seen when the main events unfolded – nor were the other conspirators. In consequence their names are not household words, and their fate gets overlooked.

Robert Catesby was born around 1572, probably in Warwickshire, and educated at Oxford. Details are sketchy at best. His family were prominent recusant Catholics, and presumably to avoid swearing the Oath of Supremacy he left college before taking his degree. He married a Protestant in 1593 and fathered two children, one of whom survived birth and was baptized in a Protestant church. But in 1598, following the deaths of his father and his wife, he reverted to Catholicism. In 1601 he took part in the Essex Rebellion but was captured and fined, after which he sold his estate at Chastleton.

The Protestant James I and VI, who became King of England in 1603, was less tolerant of Catholicism than his followers had hoped. Catesby therefore planned to kill him by blowing up the House of Lords with gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament, the prelude to a popular revolt during which a Catholic monarch would be restored to the English throne. Early in 1604 he began to recruit other Catholics to his cause, including Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy, and Guy Fawkes.

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Catesby was described as a charismatic and influential man, as well as a religious zealot. Over several months he helped to bring a further eight conspirators into the plot: Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham. The precise date on which Catesby set events in motion is unknown, but it is likely that he first had the idea early in 1604. Around June of the previous year he was visited by his friend Thomas Percy. A great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Northumberland, Percy was reported to have had a “wild youth” before he became a Catholic, and during Elizabeth’s final years had been entrusted by the 9th Earl with a secret mission to James’s court in Scotland, to plead with the king on behalf of England’s Catholics. He now complained bitterly about what he considered to be James’s treachery, and threatened to kill him. Catesby replied “No, no, Tom, thou shalt not venture to small purpose, but if thou wilt be a traitor thou shalt be to some great advantage.” Percy listened while Catesby added “I am thinking of a most sure way and I will soon let thee know what it is.” On 31st October he sent for his cousin Thomas Wintour, who was at Huddington Court in Worcestershire with his brother Robert. Thomas was educated as a lawyer and had fought for England in the Low Countries, but in 1600 had converted to Catholicism. Following the Earl of Essex’s failed rebellion, he had traveled to Spain to raise support for English Catholics, a mission which the authorities would later describe as comprising part of a ‘Spanish Treason.’ Although Thomas declined his invitation, Catesby again invited him in February the next year.

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Although the State Opening of Parliament was planned for February 1605, concern over the plague meant that it would instead occur on 3 October. A contemporaneous government account says the plotters engaged in digging a tunnel beneath Parliament by December 1604, but no other evidence exists to prove this, and no trace of a tunnel has since been found. If the story is true, the plotters ceased their efforts when the tenancy to the undercroft beneath the House of Lords became available. Several months later, early in June 1605, Catesby met the principal Jesuit in England, Father Henry Garnet, on Thames Street in London. While discussing the war in Flanders, Catesby asked about the morality of “killing innocents.” Garnet said that such actions could often be excused, but according to his own account during a second meeting in July he showed Catesby a letter from the pope which forbade rebellion. Catesby replied, “Whatever I mean to do, if the Pope knew, he would not hinder for the general good of our country.” Father Garnet’s protestations prompted Catesby’s next reply, “I am not bound to take knowledge by you of the Pope’s will.” Soon after, Father Tesimond told Father Garnet that while taking Catesby’s confession he had learned of the plot. Father Garnet met with Catesby a third time on 24th July at White Webbs in Enfield Chase, the home of Catesby’s wealthy relative Anne Vaux, and a house long suspected by the government of harboring Jesuit priests. Without acknowledging that he was aware of the precise nature of the plot, the priest tried in vain to dissuade Catesby from his course.

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A letter sent anonymously to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, alerted the authorities, and on the eve of the planned explosion, during a search of Parliament, Fawkes was found guarding the barrels of gunpowder. Late on Monday 4 November, before Fawkes’s arrest, Catesby had left for the Midlands to prepare for an uprising.  When news of Fawkes’s arrest spread the next day, most of the conspirators still in London fled. Catesby’s party, ignorant of what was happening in London, paused at Dunstable when his horse lost a shoe. When Rookwood caught them up and broke to them the news of Fawkes’s arrest, the group, which now included Rookwood, Catesby, Bates, the Wright brothers and Percy, rode toward Dunchurch. At about 6:00 pm that evening they reached Catesby’s family home at Ashby St Ledgers, where his mother and Robert Wintour were staying. To keep his mother ignorant of their situation, Catesby sent a message asking Wintour to meet him at the edge of the town. The group continued to Dunchurch, where they met Digby with a hunting party and told them that the king was  dead, thus persuading them to help with the planned uprising.

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On 6 November they raided Warwick Castle for supplies, before continuing to Norbrook to collect stored weapons. From there they continued their journey to Huddington. Catesby gave Bates a letter to deliver to Father Garnet and the other priests at Coughton Court, informing them of what had transpired, and asking for their help in raising an army in Wales, where Catholic support was believed to be strong. The priest begged Catesby and his followers to stop their “wicked actions,” and to listen to the pope’s advice. Father Garnet fled, and managed to evade capture for several weeks. Catesby and the others arrived at Huddington at about 2:00 pm, and were met by Thomas Wintour. Terrified of being associated with the fugitives, family members and former friends showed them no sympathy.

Back in London, under torture, Fawkes had started to reveal what he knew, and on 7 November the government named Catesby as a wanted man. Early that morning at Huddington, the remaining outlaws went to confession, before taking the sacrament — perhaps a sign that none of them thought they had long to live. The party of fugitives, which included those at the center of the plot, their supporters and Digby’s hunting party, by now had dwindled to only 36. They continued through pouring rain to Hewell Grange, home of the young Lord Windsor. He was absent however, so they helped themselves to further arms, ammunition, and money. The locals were unsupportive; on hearing that Catesby’s party stood for “God and Country,” they replied that they were for “King James as well as God and Country.” The party reached Holbeche House, on the border of Staffordshire, at about 10:00 pm. Tired and desperate, they spread in front of the fire some of the now-soaked gunpowder taken from Hewell Grange, to dry out. Although gunpowder does not explode (unless physically contained), a spark from the fire landed on the powder and the resultant flames engulfed Catesby, Rookwood, Grant, and another man.

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Catesby survived, although he was scorched. Digby left, ostensibly to give himself up, as did John Wintour. Thomas Bates fled, along with Robert Wintour. Remaining were Catesby (described as “reasonably well”), Rookwood, the Wright brothers, Percy and John Grant, who had been so badly injured that he lost his sight. They resolved to stay in the house and wait for the arrival of the king’s men. Catesby, believing his death to be near, kissed the gold crucifix he wore around his neck and said he had given everything for “the honour of the Cross.”

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Richard Walsh, Sheriff of Worcester, and his company of 200 men besieged Holbeche House at about 11:00 am on 8 November. While crossing the courtyard Thomas Wintour was hit in the shoulder. John Wright was shot, followed by his brother, and then Rookwood. Catesby and Percy were reportedly both dropped by a single lucky shot, while standing near the door. Catesby managed to crawl inside the house, where his body was later found, clutching a picture of the Virgin Mary. This and his gold crucifix were sent to London, to demonstrate what “superstitious and Popish idols” had inspired the plotters. The survivors were taken into custody and the dead buried near Holbeche. On the orders of the Earl of Northampton however, the bodies of Catesby and Percy were exhumed and decapitated, the heads being taken to London and impaled on the side of the Parliament House.

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I don’t think that in general one should celebrate conspiracy and death, but I have celebrated Bonfire Night for decades. Robert Catesby perhaps should get a tip of the hat alongside Guy Fawkes. I could give you a 17th century Stuart recipe but I think this would be a bit anachronistic. In 1605 cooking habits would still have followed Elizabethan customs. Here’s a recipe for Fartes of Portingale from The Good Huswives Handmaid, originally published in 1588 with editions printed also in 1594 and 1597. So the dish would have been current in Catesby’s time. “Fartes” sounds a bit strange for meatballs. I can find no reference to the word in old word lists except meaning, “break wind.” Curious, but maybe fitting for a traitor. I also give the next recipe for fystes which helps expand the first.

How to make Fartes of Portingale.

TAke a peece of a leg of Mutton, mince it smal and season it with cloues, Mace pepper and salt, and Dates minced with currans: then roll it into round rolles, and so into little balles, and so boyle them in a little beefe broth and so serue them foorth.

How to make Fystes of Portingale.

TAke some sweet suet minced small, the yolks of two egs, with grated bread and currans: temper al these together with a litle saffron, sinamon, ginger, and a litle salt: then seeth them in a litle Bastard or sack a little while: and when they haue boiled a litle take it vp, and cast some sugar to it, & so make bals of it as big as tennis balles, & lay foure or fiue in a dish, and powre on some of the broth that they were sodden in, and so serue them.

Portingale is Portugal, so apparently this was an Elizabethan cook’s idea of cooking in Portugal (a good Catholic country). The recipes are pretty easy to understand and are normal for Tudor cooking – lots of meat and fat with sweet spices and dried fruits. Our Christmas pudding and mincemeat are the last remnants of this style of cooking, though we now consider them as desserts whereas for the Tudors they would have been main dishes. Note that Tudor tennis balls were smaller than modern ones, but you are still looking to make big meatballs. They should be served in broth.

Aug 132016
 

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On this date, the Lutheran church celebrates Clara Louise Maass (June 28, 1876 – August 24, 1901) in its Calendar of Saints. She was a nurse from the US who died as a result of volunteering for medical experiments to study yellow fever.

Clara Maass was born in East Orange, New Jersey, to German immigrants Hedwig and Robert Maass. She was the eldest of 10 children in a devout Lutheran family. In 1895, she became one of the first graduates of Newark German Hospital’s Christina Trefz Training School for Nurses. By 1898, she had been promoted to head nurse at Newark German Hospital, where she was known for her hard work and dedication to her profession.

In April 1898, during the Spanish–American War, Maass volunteered as a contract nurse for the United States Army (the Army Nurse Corps did not yet exist). She served with the Seventh U. S. Army Corps from October 1, 1898, to February 5, 1899, in Jacksonville, Florida, Savannah, Georgia, and Santiago, Cuba. She was discharged in 1899, but volunteered again to serve with the Eighth U.S. Army Corps in the Philippines from November 1899 to mid-1900.

During her service with the military, she saw few battle injuries. Instead, most of her nursing duties involved providing medical care to soldiers suffering from infectious diseases, such as typhoid, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. She contracted dengue in Manila, and was sent home.

Shortly after finishing her second assignment with the army, Maass returned to Cuba in October 1900 after being summoned by William Gorgas, who was working with the U.S. Army’s Yellow Fever Commission. The commission, headed by Major Walter Reed, was established during the post-war occupation of Cuba in order to investigate yellow fever, which was causing major problems in Cuba at the time. One of the commission’s goals was to determine how the disease was spread. At the time it was not known whether it was spread by mosquito bites or by contact with contaminated objects, but Reed theorized that mosquitoes were the culprits and wanted to test his belief.

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The commission recruited human subjects because they did not know of any animals that could contract yellow fever (primates are the only vector). In the first recorded instance of informed consent in human experiments, volunteers were told that participation in the studies might cause their deaths. As an incentive, volunteers were paid US$100 (approximately $3,000 today), with an additional $100 if the volunteer became ill.

In March 1901, Maass volunteered to be bitten by a Culex fasciata mosquito (now called Aedes aegypti) that had been allowed to feed on yellow fever patients. She contracted a mild case of the disease from which she quickly recovered. By this time, the researchers were reasonably certain that mosquitoes were the route of transmission, but lacked convincing scientific evidence to prove it, because some volunteers who were bitten remained healthy. Maass continued to volunteer for experiments.

On August 14, 1901, Maass allowed herself to be bitten by infected mosquitoes for the second time. Researchers were hoping to show that her earlier case of yellow fever was sufficient to immunize her against the disease. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Maass once again became ill with yellow fever on August 18, and died on August 24 (aged 25). Her death roused public sentiment and put an end to yellow fever experiments on human subjects. Maass was buried in Colon Cemetery in Havana with military honors. Her body was moved to Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey, on February 20, 1902.

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In 1951, the 50th anniversary of her death, Cuba issued a postage stamp in her honor.

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On June 19, 1952, Newark German Hospital (which had since moved to Belleville, New Jersey) was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital, and it is now known as Clara Maass Medical Center.

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In 1976, the 100th anniversary of her birth, Maass was honored with a 13¢ United States commemorative stamp.

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Also in 1976, the American Nurses Association inducted her into its Nursing Hall of Fame.

I’ve chosen the Cuban sandwich as a recipe to honor Clara Maass because it has associations with both late 19th century Florida and Cuba where she worked. As with Cuban bread [below], the origin of the Cuban sandwich (sometimes called a “Cuban mix,” a “mixto,” a “Cuban pressed sandwich,” or a “Cubano” is murky. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel between Cuba and Florida was easy, especially from Key West and Tampa, and Cubans frequently sailed back and forth for employment, pleasure, and family visits. Because of this constant and largely undocumented movement of people, culture and ideas, it is impossible to say exactly when or where the Cuban sandwich originated. (As a small aside, I will note that at this time no one especially cared that the Cubans in Florida were undocumented.)

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It is believed by some that the sandwich was a common lunch food for workers in both the cigar factories and sugar mills of Cuba (especially in big cities such as Havana or Santiago de Cuba) and the cigar factories of Key West by the 1860s. Historian Loy Glenn Westfall suggests that the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West.” The cigar industry in Florida shifted to Tampa in the 1880s and the sandwich quickly appeared in workers’ cafés in Ybor City and (later) West Tampa. In the 1960s the sandwich became popular in other cities in Florida because of the torrent of immigrants escaping Castro.

While there is some debate as to the contents of a “true” Cuban sandwich, most are generally agreed upon. The traditional Cuban sandwich starts with Cuban bread. The loaf is sliced into lengths of 8–12 inches (20–30 cm), lightly buttered or brushed with olive oil on the crust, and cut in half horizontally. A coat of yellow mustard is spread on the bread. Then sliced roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced dill pickles are added in layers. Sometimes the pork is marinated in mojo and slow roasted.

The main regional disagreement about the sandwich’s recipe is whether or not to include salami. In Tampa, Genoa salami is traditionally layered in with the other meats, probably due to influence of Italian immigrants who lived side-by-side with Cubans and Spaniards in Ybor City. In South Florida, salami is left out. Mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato are usually available options on Florida menus but are frowned upon by traditionalists.

Getting Cuban bread will be your main problem. The origins of “real” Cuban bread are as hotly debated as the “real” Cuban sandwich. The earliest U.S. bakery to produce Cuban bread was most likely La Joven Francesca bakery, which was established by the Sicilian-born Francisco Ferlita in 1896 in Ybor City, which was a thriving Cuban-Spanish-Italian community in Tampa at the time. The bakery originally sold bread for 3 to 5 cents per loaf, delivered every morning like milk. Houses in Ybor City often had a sturdy nail driven into the door frame on the front porch, and a bread deliveryman would impale the fresh loaf of bread on to the nail before dawn.

Ferlita’s bakery was destroyed by fire in 1922, leaving only the brick bread oven standing. He rebuilt it even larger than before and added a second oven, and it soon became a major supplier of Cuban bread for the Tampa/Ybor area. The bakery also added a dining area which became a place to congregate, drink a cup of Cuban coffee, and catch up on the local news. La Joven Francesca closed in 1973, but soon found new life when it was renovated and converted into the Ybor City State Museum, becoming the main part of the museum complex. The original ovens where the original Cuban bread was baked can still be seen.

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The Tampa Daily Journal, 1896, reported:

It is not amiss to say that the Latins in Ybor City make a very fine bread, equal in all respects to the French article of that kind and unexcelled by the Vienna product.

A traditional loaf of Cuban bread is approximately three feet long and somewhat rectangular crossways (as compared to the rounder shape of Italian or French bread loaves). It has a hard, thin, almost papery toasted crust and a soft flaky center. In the early days, the dough was stretched thin to make it last, creating the bread’s distinctive air pockets and long shape. As they have for decades, traditional Cuban bread makers lay a long, moist palmetto frond on top of the loaves before baking, creating a shallow trench in the upper crust, producing an effect similar to the slashing of a European-style loaf. (The frond is removed before eating.)

Apr 302016
 

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On this date in 1900 Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900) died trying to avert a disaster with his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, and almost instantly became a folk hero. Jones was from Jackson, Tennessee, and worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). As a boy, he lived near Cayce, Kentucky, where he acquired the nickname of “Cayce”, which he chose to spell as “Casey”.

Jones married Mary Joanna (“Janie”) Brady (born 1866), whose father owned the boarding house where Jones was staying at the time. Since she was Catholic, he decided to convert and was baptized on November 11, 1886 at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Whistler, Alabama, to please her. They were married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Jackson on November 25, 1886. They bought a house at 211 West Chester Street in Jackson, where they raised their three children. By all accounts he was a devoted family man and teetotaler.

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Jones went to work for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, performed well and was promoted to brakeman on the Columbus, Kentucky to Jackson, Tennessee route, and then to fireman on the Jackson, Tennessee to Mobile, Alabama route. In summer 1887 a yellow fever epidemic struck many train crews on the neighboring Illinois Central Railroad (IC), providing an unexpected opportunity for faster promotion of firemen on that line. On March 1, 1888, Jones switched to IC, firing a freight locomotive between Jackson, Tennessee and Water Valley, Mississippi.

He was promoted to engineer, his lifelong goal, on February 23, 1891. Jones reached the pinnacle of the railroad profession as a crack locomotive engineer for IC. Railroading was a talent, and Jones was recognized by his peers as one of the best engineers in the business. He was known for his insistence that he “get her there on the advertised” (time) and that he never “fall down”: arrive at his destination behind schedule. He was so punctual, it was said that people set their watches by him.

His work in Jackson primarily involved freight service between Jackson and Water Valley, Mississippi. Both locations were busy and important stops for IC, and he developed close ties with them between 1890 and 1900. Jones was also famous for his peculiar skill with the train whistle. His whistle was made of six thin tubes bound together, the shortest being half the length of the longest. Its unique sound involved a long-drawn-out note that began softly, rose and then died away to a whisper, a sound that became his trademark. The sound of it was variously described as “a sort of whippoorwill call,” or “like the war cry of a Viking.” It was said that people living along the IC line between Jackson and Water Valley would turn over in their beds late at night upon hearing it and say “There goes Casey Jones” as he steamed by.

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During the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, Illinois, in 1893, IC was charged with providing commuter service for the thousands of visitors to the fairground. A call was sent out for trainmen who wanted to work there. Jones answered it, spending a pleasant summer there with his wife. He shuttled many people from Van Buren Street to Jackson Park during the exposition. It was his first experience as an engineer in passenger service and he liked it.

At the fair (also called The Chicago World’s Fair), he became acquainted with No. 638, a big new freight engine IC had on display as the latest and greatest technological advancement in trains. It had eight drive wheels and two pilot wheels, a 2-8-0 “Consolidation” type. At the closing of the fair, No. 638 was due to be sent to Water Valley for service in the Jackson District. Jones asked for permission to drive the engine back to Water Valley. His request was approved, and No. 638 ran its first 589 miles (948 km) with Jones at the throttle to Water Valley. Jones liked No. 638 and liked working in the Jackson District because his family was there. They had once moved to Water Valley, but returned to Jackson, which they felt was home.

Jones drove the engine until he transferred to Memphis in February 1900. No. 638 stayed in Water Valley. That year he drove the engine that became most closely associated with him, for one time. That was Engine No. 382, known affectionately as “Ole 382.”, or “Cannonball”. It was a steam-driven Rogers 4-6-0 “Ten Wheeler” with six driving wheels, each approximately six feet (1.8 m) high. Bought new in 1898 from the Rogers Locomotive Works, it was a very powerful engine for the time. His regular fireman on No. 638 was his close friend, John Wesley McKinnie, with whom he worked exclusively from about 1897 until he went to the passenger run out of Memphis. There he worked with his next and last fireman, Simeon T. “Sim” Webb in 1900.

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Jones was issued nine citations for rules infractions in his career, with a total of 145 days suspended. But in the year prior to his death, Jones had not been cited for any rules infractions. Railroaders who worked with Jones liked him but admitted that he was a bit of a risk taker. Unofficially though, the penalties were far more severe for running behind than breaking the rules. He was by all accounts an ambitious engineer, eager to move up the seniority ranks and serve on the better-paying, more prestigious passenger trains.

In February 1900 Jones was transferred from Jackson, Tennessee, to Memphis, Tennessee, for the passenger run between Memphis and Canton, Mississippi. This was one link of a four-train run between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana, the so-called “cannonball” passenger run. “Cannonball” was a contemporary term applied to fast mail and fast passenger trains of those days, but it was a generic term for speed service. This run offered the fastest schedules in the history of U.S. railroading. Some veteran engineers doubted the times could be met and some quit over the scheduling.

Engineer Willard W. “Bill” Hatfield had transferred from Memphis back to a run out of Water Valley, thus opening up trains No. 2 (north) and No. 3 (south) to another engineer. Jones had to move his family to Memphis and give up working with his close friend John Wesley McKinnie on No. 638, but he thought the change was worth it. Jones drove Hatfield’s Engine No. 384 until the night of his fateful last ride on Engine No. 382.

There is controversy over the circumstances prior to Casey Jones’ last, fatal run. In the account given in  Railroad Avenue by Freeman H. Hubbard, which was based on an interview with fireman Sim Webb, he and Casey had been used overtime on trains 3 and 2 to cover for engineer Sam Tate who had marked off ill. They returned to Memphis at 6:25 on the morning of April 29, giving them adequate time to be rested for number 1 that night, which was their regular assigned run.

The Fred J. Lee biography, Casey Jones, contended the men arrived in Memphis on No. 4 at 9 o’clock on the evening of April 29. They were asked to turn right around and take number 1 back to Canton to fill in for Sam Tate who had marked off. This would have given them little time to rest, as Number 1 was due out at 11:35 pm. In both of these accounts, Jones’ regular run were trains 1 and 4. In a third account, trains 3 and 2 were Casey and Sim Webb’s regular run, and they were asked to fill in for Sam Tate that night on No. 1, having arrived that morning on No. 2.

In any event, they departed Memphis on the fatal run at 12:50 a.m., 75 minutes behind schedule, due to the late arrival of number 1. A fast engine, a good fireman (Simeon T. Webb) and a light train (they had six cars) were ideal for a record-setting run. Although it was raining, steam trains of that era operated best in damp conditions. The weather was quite foggy that night, reducing visibility, and the run was well known for its tricky curves.

In the first section of the run, Jones drove from Memphis 100 miles (160 km) south to Grenada, Mississippi, with an intermediate water stop at Sardis, Mississippi (50 miles (80 km) into the run), over a new section of light and shaky rails at speeds up to 80 miles per hour (130 km/h). At Senatobia, Mississippi (40 miles (64 km) into the run), Jones passed through the scene of a prior fatal accident that occurred the previous November. Jones made his water stop at Sardis, and arrived at Grenada for more water, having made up 55 minutes of the 75-minute delay.

Jones made up another 15 minutes in the 25-mile (40 km) stretch from Grenada to Winona, Mississippi. The following 30-mile (48 km) stretch (Winona to Durant, Mississippi) had no speed-restricted curves. By the time he got to Durant (155 miles (249 km) into the run), Jones was almost on time. He was quite happy, saying at one point, “Sim, the old girl’s got her dancing slippers on tonight!”

At Durant, he received new orders to take to the siding at Goodman, Mississippi (eight miles (13 km) south of Durant, and 163 miles (262 km) into the run), wait for the No. 2 passenger train to pass, and then continue on to Vaughan. His orders also instructed him to meet passenger train No. 26 at Vaughan (15 miles (24 km) south of Goodman, and 178 miles (286 km) into the run). He was told that No. 26 was a local passenger train in two sections and would be in the siding, so he would have priority over it. Jones pulled out of Goodman, only five minutes behind schedule.

Unknown to Jones, three separate trains were in the station at Vaughan: double-header freight train No. 83 (located to the north and headed south, which had been delayed due to having two drawbars pulled while at Vaughan), and long freight train No. 72 (located to the south and headed north) were both in the passing track to the east of the main line. As the combined length of the trains was ten cars longer than the length of the east passing track, some of the cars were stopped on the main line. The two sections of northbound local passenger train No. 26 had arrived from Canton earlier, and required a “saw by” for them to get to the “house track” west of the main line. The “saw by” maneuver required that No. 83 back up (on to the main line) to allow No. 72 to move northward and pull its overlapping cars off the main line and onto the east side track from the south switch, thus allowing the two sections of No. 26 to gain access to the west house track. The “saw by”, however, left the rear cars of No. 83 overlapping above the north switch and on the main line – right in Jones’s path. As workers prepared a second “saw by” to let Jones pass, an air hose broke on No. 72, locking its brakes and leaving the last four cars of No. 83 on the main line.

Meanwhile, Jones was almost back on schedule, running at about 75 miles per hour (121 km/h) toward Vaughan, and traveling through a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) left-hand curve that blocked his view. Webb’s view from the left side of the train was better, and he was first to see the red lights of the caboose on the main line. “Oh my Lord, there’s something on the main line!” he yelled to Jones. Jones quickly yelled back “Jump Sim, jump!” to Webb, who crouched down and jumped from the train, about 300 feet (91 m) before impact, and knocked unconscious by his fall. The last thing Webb heard as he jumped was the long, piercing scream of the whistle as Jones warned anyone still in the freight train looming ahead. He was only two minutes behind schedule.

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Jones reversed the throttle and slammed the airbrakes into emergency stop, but “Ole 382” quickly ploughed through a wooden caboose, a car load of hay, another of corn, and half way through a car of timber before leaving the track. He had reduced his speed from about 75 miles per hour (121 km/h) to about 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) when he hit. Because Jones stayed on board to slow the train, he was believed to have saved the passengers from serious injury and death. (Jones was the only fatality of the collision). His watch stopped at the time of impact: 3:52 am on April 30, 1900. Popular legend holds that when his body was pulled from the wreckage, his hands still clutched the whistle cord and brake. A stretcher was brought from the baggage car on No. 1, and crewmen of the other trains carried his body to the depot, a half-mile (0.80 km) away.

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The headlines in the Jackson, Tennessee, Sun read: “FATAL WRECK – Engineer Casey Jones, of This City, Killed Near Canton, Miss. – DENSE FOG THE DIRECT CAUSE – Of a Rear End Collision on the Illinois Central. – Fireman and Messenger Injured – Passenger Train Crashed Into a Local Freight Partly on the Siding-Several Cars Demolished.”

Jones’ legend was quickly fueled by headlines such as, “DEAD UNDER HIS CAB: THE SAD END OF ENGINEER CASEY JONES,” The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee; and “HEROIC ENGINEER – Sticks to his post at cost of life. Railroad Wreck at Vaughan’s on Illinois Central Railroad – Terrible Fatality Prevented by Engineer’s Loyalty to Duty – A passenger’s Story,” The Times-Democrat, New Orleans.

The passenger in the article was Adam Hauser, formerly a member of The Times-Democrat telegraph staff (New Orleans). He was in a sleeper on Jones’ southbound fast mail and said after the wreck:

The passengers did not suffer, and there was no panic. I was jarred a little in my bunk, but when fairly awake the train was stopped and everything was still. Engineer Jones did a wonderful as well as a heroic piece of work, at the cost of his life. The marvel and mystery is how Engineer Jones stopped that train. The railroad men themselves wondered at it and of course the uninitiated could not do less. But stop it he did. In a way that showed his complete mastery of his engine, as well as his sublime heroism. I imagine that the Vaughan wreck will be talked about in roundhouses, lunchrooms and cabooses for the next six months, not alone on the Illinois Central, but many other roads in Mississippi and Louisiana.

The next morning Jones’s body was transported on the long trip home to Jackson, Tennessee on passenger train No. 26. On the following day, the funeral service was held in St. Mary’s Church, where he and Janie Brady had married fourteen years before. He was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery. Fifteen enginemen rode 118 miles (190 km) from Water Valley to pay their last respects, which was a record at the time.

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A conductor’s report filed five hours after the accident stated, “Engineer on No.1 failed to answer flagman who was out proper distance. It is supposed he did not see the flag.” This was the position the IC held in its official reports. The final IC accident report was released on July 13, 1900 by A.S. Sullivan, General Superintendent of IC It stated that “Engineer Jones was solely responsible having disregarded the signals given by Flagman Newberry.” John M. Newberry was the flagman on the southbound No. 83 that Jones hit. According to the report, he had gone out a distance of 3,000 feet (910 m), where he had placed warning torpedos on the rail. He continued north a further distance of 500 to 800 feet (150 to 240 m), where he stood and gave signals to Jones’ train No.1. Historians and the press had questions about the official findings.

In the report Fireman Sim Webb states that he heard the torpedo explode, then went to the gangway on the engineer’s side and saw the flagman with the red and white lights standing alongside the tracks. Going to the fireman’s side, he saw the markers of the caboose of No. 83 and yelled to Jones. But it would have been impossible for him to have seen the flagman if the flagman had been positioned 500–800 feet (150-240 m) before the torpedoes as the report says he was. Some railroad historians have disputed the official account over the years, finding it difficult ,if not impossible, to believe that an engineer of Jones’s experience would have ignored a flagman and fusees (flares) and torpedoes exploded on the rail to alert him to danger. Contrary to what the report claimed, shortly after the accident and until his death Webb maintained, “We saw no flagman or fusees, we heard no torpedoes. Without any warning we plowed into that caboose.”

As a boy I knew about Casey Jones exclusively from the television series of the same name, one of a raft of U.S. shows broadcast on Australian networks in the 1950s and 60s, before the Australian television and film industry had established itself.

The series actually had little to do with railroading and was not based on anything recorded of Jones’s life. But I enjoyed it. The theme song was an adaptation of a contemporary song, “The Ballad of Casey Jones,” that was in large part responsible for Jones’s heroic status and later recorded by, among others, Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, Furry Lewis, and Johnny Cash.

Here’s a basic recipe in the general tradition of U.S. home cooking. It’s essentially a beef stew covered with bread dough instead of a pie crust and baked. You can make your own dough, or buy it fresh or frozen. I tend to do the latter. I have no idea why it is called Casey Jones One Dish except that it might be considered an American classic. This is my own recipe adapted to my tastes.

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©Casey Jones One Dish

Ingredients

1lb bread dough
3 or 4 slices streaky bacon
1 ½lb lean ground beef
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4oz mushrooms, sliced
8oz tomato sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup (or 1 tbsp tomato puree)
beef stock
fresh or dried oregano, thyme, basil, parsley, and black pepper (to taste)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Sauté the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and break it into bits.

Add the beef and onions and brown over medium high heat in the bacon fat remaining in the Dutch oven. Add the remaining ingredients, except the egg, half the bacon bits, and enough beef stock to moisten. Simmer for about 20 minutes so that the beef is cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Constantly check the seasonings during the cooking process.

Make sure that your bread dough has properly risen.  You can either roll it out to cover the beef filling like a pastry top, or divide it into sections to cover the filling as you would scalloped potatoes (that is, overlapping circles). Brush with beaten egg, and scatter the remaining bacon bits over the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 375°F for about 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden.

Serves: 8

Apr 062016
 

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On this date in 1199 Richard I of England, often called Lionheart, died of an infected wound. Usually I celebrate the birth of famous people, and reserve the date of death for martyrs because the day on which they died is commonly used as their feast day (the day they went to heaven). In Richard’s case I think his day of death is much more significant than his date of birth because his death sums up so much of his reign. This date also gives me the opportunity to talk about how Richard was perceived in his lifetime versus what history has made of him, which, in turn, allows me to talk about the nature of history in general. History, despite what many schoolchildren (and schoolteachers and textbooks) believe, is not about FACTS primarily; it is about the interpretation of events. I would have no interest in history if it were just about things that happened. I want to know WHY they happened, and HOW they happened. History is a series of questions to which there are many (sometimes conflicting) answers.

Richard I is a great example to me of a king who has been treated very well by history, but, in my opinion does not (entirely) deserve the high reputation that he has.  By contrast his brother, John, has a bad reputation which he does not (entirely) deserve either. Richard was king of England for 10 years yet spent only about 6 months of his reign in England.  The rest of the time he was fighting “foreign” wars in the Middle East and Europe, or in captivity. Getting him released from captivity almost bankrupted England, and required ruinous taxation. Furthermore, Richard did not speak English and appears to have been interested in the country as a source of revenue only. John, by contrast, spoke English as his native tongue, lived for long periods in England, and was in great part responsible for the development of English-ness as a sensibility among the nobility. I’m not trying to say that we should switch judgments and make Richard the bad guy, and John the good guy. I’m saying that the situation is not black and white.

We also need to get away from the idea that kings all the way from William the Conqueror to Richard were, first and foremost, kings of England. They were not. That is a highly ethnocentric point of view.  In their day, general politics was much more international than it is now. Yes, there was a nation called England – created by William the Conqueror – but it did not stand alone. The kings of England were also rulers of vast tracts of what is now France. So when writing history we need to be more global, and talk about Anglo-French rulers and Anglo-French territory, rather than narrowing our history to England and English kings. If we view Richard as an Anglo-French king, then he was not bad (not good either).  If we think of him only as a king of England, he was terrible.

Richard ruled as Duke of Normandy (as Richard IV), Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Poitiers, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany at various times. He was the third of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior (which he was). He was also known in Occitan as Oc e No (Yes and No), because of his reputation for terseness.

By the age of 16, Richard had taken command of his own army, putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father. Richard was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, leading the campaign after the departure of Philip II of France and scoring considerable victories against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, although he did not retake Jerusalem from Saladin.

Richard spoke langue d’oïl, and lenga d’òc, Romance/French dialects (named thus because “oïl” and “òc” are the words for “yes” in their respective dialects). He was born in England, where he spent his childhood. Before becoming king, however, he lived for most of his adult life in the Duchy of Aquitaine in the southwest of France. Although he regarded England primarily as a source of revenue to support his armies he did have a reputation as a pious hero and valiant soldier by many of his subjects. This reputation is, I believe, rather more evident in Victorian literature (especially in latter-day tales of Robin Hood), than when he was alive.

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Here’s a part of Richard’s history that is often conveniently forgotten. He was officially invested as Duke of Normandy on 20 July 1189 and was crowned king in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189. He barred all Jews and women from the investiture, but some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king. According to Ralph of Diceto, Richard’s courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court. When a rumor spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London attacked the Jewish population. Many Jewish homes were burned down, and several Jews were forcibly baptized. Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape. Among those killed was Jacob of Orléans, a respected Jewish scholar. Roger of Howden, in his Gesta Regis Ricardi, claimed that the rioting was started by the jealous and bigoted citizens, and that Richard punished the perpetrators, allowing at least one forcibly converted Jew to return to his native religion. Baldwin of Forde, Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted by remarking, “If the King is not God’s man, he had better be the devil’s.”

We can’t lay all of the anti-Semitic acts at Richard’s door, but he certainly promoted an atmosphere of anti-Semitism, which he later tried to repudiate, not because of a change of heart, but because anti-Semitic passions threatened to destabilize England on the eve of his departure on crusade, and he realized that in his absence his hold on power might be tenuous. He was fully aware that he had noble adversaries, and that John was waiting in the wings to take over. In consequence he issued a royal writ demanding that Jews were to be left alone,  but he edict was loosely enforced, and the following March there was further violence including a massacre at York.

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Richard set about raising the huge sums of money for the Third Crusade through the sale of lands, titles and appointments, and attempted to ensure that he would not face a revolt while away from his empire. His brother, John, was made Count of Mortain, was married to the wealthy Isabel of Gloucester, and was given valuable lands in Lancaster and the counties of Cornwall, Derby, Devon, Dorset, Nottingham and Somerset, all with the aim of buying his loyalty to Richard whilst the king was on crusade. Richard retained royal control of key castles in these counties, thereby preventing John from accumulating too much military and political power. In return, John promised not to visit England for the next three years, thereby in theory giving Richard adequate time to conduct a successful crusade and return from the Levant without fear of John seizing power. Richard left political authority in England – the post of justiciar – jointly in the hands of Bishop Hugh de Puiset and William Mandeville, and made William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, his chancellor. Mandeville immediately died, and Longchamp took over as joint justiciar with Puiset, which would prove to be a less than satisfactory partnership. Eleanor, the queen mother, convinced Richard to allow John into England in his absence.

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The political situation in England rapidly began to deteriorate. Longchamp refused to work with Puiset and became unpopular with the English nobility and clergy. John exploited this unpopularity to set himself up as an alternative ruler with his own royal court, complete with his own justiciar, chancellor and other royal posts, and was happy to be portrayed as an alternative regent, and possibly the next king.[39] Armed conflict broke out between John and Longchamp, and by October 1191 Longchamp was isolated in the Tower of London with John in control of the city of London, thanks to promises John had made to the citizens in return for recognition as Richard’s heir presumptive.

John began to explore an alliance with the French king Philip II, freshly returned from the crusade (leaving Richard behind). John hoped to acquire Normandy, Anjou and the other lands in France held by Richard in exchange for allying himself with Philip. When Richard still did not return from the crusade, John began to assert that his brother was dead or otherwise permanently lost. Richard had in fact been captured en route to England by the Duke of Austria and was handed over to Emperor Henry VI, who held him for ransom. John seized the opportunity and went to Paris, where he formed an alliance with Philip. He agreed to set aside his wife, Isabella of Gloucester, and marry Philip’s sister, Alys, in exchange for Philip’s support. Fighting broke out in England between forces loyal to Richard and those being gathered by John. John’s military position was weak and he agreed to a truce; in early 1194 the king finally returned to England, and John’s remaining forces surrendered. John retreated to Normandy, where Richard finally found him later that year. Richard declared that his younger brother – despite being 27 years old – was merely “a child who has had evil counsellors” and forgave him, but removed his lands with the exception of Ireland.

For the remaining years of Richard’s reign, John supported his brother on the continent, apparently loyally. Richard’s policy on the continent was to attempt to regain through steady, limited campaigns the castles he had lost to Philip II whilst on crusade. He allied himself with the leaders of Flanders, Boulogne and the Holy Roman Empire to apply pressure on Philip from Germany. In 1195 John successfully conducted a sudden attack and siege of Évreux castle, and subsequently managed the defenses of Normandy against Philip. The following year, John seized the town of Gamaches and led a raiding party within 50 miles (80 km) of Paris, capturing the Bishop of Beauvais. In return for this service, Richard withdrew his malevolentia (ill-will) towards John, restored him to the county of Gloucestershire and made him again the Count of Mortain.

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Partly as a result of these and other intrigues, Richard won several victories over Philip. At Fréteval in 1194, just after Richard’s return to France from captivity and money-raising in England, Philip fled, leaving his entire archive of financial audits and documents to be captured by Richard. At the Battle of Gisors (sometimes called Courcelles) in 1198, Richard took “Dieu et mon Droit”—”God and my Right”—as his motto (still used by the British monarchy today), echoing his earlier boast to the Emperor Henry that his rank acknowledged no superior but God.

In March 1199, Richard was in the Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he “devastated the Viscount’s land with fire and sword” and besieged the virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol. In the early evening of 25 March 1199, Richard was walking around the castle perimeter without his chainmail, investigating the progress of sappers on the castle walls. Missiles were occasionally shot from the castle walls, but these were given little attention. One defender in particular amused the king greatly—a man standing on the walls, crossbow in one hand, the other clutching a frying pan he had been using all day as a shield to beat off missiles. He deliberately aimed at the king, which Richard applauded; however, another crossbowman then struck the king in the left shoulder near the neck. He tried to pull this out in the privacy of his tent but failed; a surgeon, called a “butcher” by Howden, removed it, “carelessly mangling” the King’s arm in the process. The wound swiftly became gangrenous. Richard then set his affairs in order, bequeathing all his territory to his brother John and his jewels to his nephew Otto.

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Richard died on 6 April 1199 in the arms of his mother; it was later said that “As the day was closing, he ended his earthly day.” Richard’s heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, his entrails in Châlus (where he died), and the rest of his body at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou. My epitaph, which accords with many modern historians, is that Richard was a valiant soldier, a devout Christian, and a disastrous king.

Given that we can scarcely call Richard an Englishman it would not be appropriate to celebrate him with English cooking. In any case, we should also understand that in royal households of the time in England the cooking was French, as were the names for the meats – porc, boeuf, and mouton, not the English, pig, ox, and sheep. The most well known French chef of the Middle Ages was Guillaume Tirel, also known as Taillevent. Le Viandier (often called Le Viandier de Taillevent) is a recipe collection generally credited to Tirel, however, the earliest version of the work has been dated to around 1300, about 10 years before his birth. The original author is unknown, but Tirel probably had a hand in later revisions. A transcription of the MS can be found here:

http://www.staff.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/vi-vat.htm

A good translation is here:

http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier1.html

Have fun. I find the original French very hard to understand without a parallel translation. In royal households visual display was prized. Brilliant colors were obtained by the addition of, for example, juices from spinach and the green part of leeks. Yellow came from saffron or egg yolk, while red came from sunflower, and purple from Crozophora tinctoria or Heliotropium europaeum. Gold and silver leaf were placed on food surfaces and brushed with egg whites. Elaborate and showy dishes were the result, such as tourte parmerienne which was a pastry dish made to look like a castle with chicken-drumstick turrets coated with gold leaf. One of the grandest showpieces of the time was roast swan or peacock sewn back into its skin with feathers intact, the feet and beak being gilded. Since both birds are stringy, and taste unpleasant, the skin and feathers could be kept and filled with the cooked, minced and seasoned flesh of tastier birds, like goose or chicken

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Here’s the beginning part of the MS having to do with gilded dishes.  First in the original French, and then a serviceable (abbreviated) translation.

DOREURES

Entremetz pour ung jour de feste ou pour ung convy de prince aux trois jours masles de la sepmaine comme dimenche, mardi et le jeudi.

Pour farsiz et pommeaulx: convient, pour les pommeaulx, de la chair de porc crue, il ne peult challoir quelle, dont les poulles soient farcies; et convient, après que la poulaille est tué, rompre ung pou de peau de la teste, et avoir ung tuyau de plume et souffler dedans tant qu’elle soit bien plaine de vent, et puis les eschauder, et, après, les fendre par dessoubz le ventre, et les escorchier et mettre les charcois d’un costé.

Et convient, pour faire la farce pour farcir la poullaille, du blanc, du lart hachié avec la chair, et fault des oeufz, de bonne poudre fine, du pignolet et du roisin de Corinde et en farsir la peau de la poulaille et ne l’emplir pas trop qu’elle ne crieve, puis la recoudre; et convient la boullir en une paelle sur le feu, et ne le fault guaire laisser cuire, et puis les brochez en broches gresles, et, quant les pommeaulx seront bien faictz, les convient mettre cuire avec ladicte poulaille, et les tirer quant ilz seront durciz, et avoir les broches des pommeaulx plus gresles de la moittié ou plus que celles de la poullaille. Et après, fault avoir de lapaste batue en oeufz tellement qu’elle se puisse tenir sur la paelle, et, quant la poullaille et les pommeaulx seront presque cuitz, les oster et mettre sur sa paste, et prendre de la paste à une cuillier nette, en remuant tousjours, et mettre par dessus sa poulaille et ses pommeaulx tant qu’ilz en soient dorez, et les faire par ii ou par iii foiz tant qu’ilz en soient bien couvertz, et fault prendre du feul d’or ou d’argent et les enveloper, et fault avoir ung petit d’aubun d’oeuf et les arrouser affin que le fueil tiengne mieulx.

GILDED DISHES

Subtleties for a feast day, or for a prince’s banquet on three meat days of the week such as Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

[Gilded chickens with quenelles.]

After the chicken is killed, break a bit of skin on the head, take a feather tube, blow in until it is very full of air, scald it, slit it along the belly, skin it, and put the carcass aside.

For the stuffing and the quenelles have some raw pork meat (it doesn’t matter what kind) chopped with pork fat, white [chicken meat], eggs, good Fine Powder, pine nut paste and currants. Stuff the chicken skins with it (but do not fill them so much that they burst), restitch them, and boil them in a pan on the fire (but do not let them cook for very long). When the quenelles are well made, put them to cook with the chickens, and remove them when they are hardened. Spit the chickens on slender spits. Have the spits for the quenelles slenderer by half or more than those for the chickens.

Afterwards, you need to have some batter beaten from eggs until it can stand up in the pan. When the chickens and quenelles are nearly cooked, remove them and put them over your batter. Take some batter with a clean spoon, stirring always, put it on top of your chickens and quenelles, [and put them over the fire] until they are glazed. Do them 2 or 3 times until they are well covered. Take some gold or silver leaf and wrap them (first sprinkle them with a little egg white so that the leaf adheres better).

Needless to say, I’m not about to whip this up for a quick supper, or even for a big dinner party.

Feb 192016
 

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Today is the birthday (1473) of Nicolaus Copernicus a Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe. The publication of this model in his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) just before his death in 1543 is considered a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution and making an important contribution to the Scientific Revolution. Here, mostly, I want to continue a discussion I began in this blog some time ago, trying to dispel some trenchant misconceptions about the reception of Copernicus’ work. It was NOT all scientists on one side (the “right” side) and all clergy on the other side (the “wrong” side). Many clergy were sympathetic to Copernicus and many scientists opposed him. This was abundantly clear when Galileo was tried for heresy: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/trial-galileo-think/.

Copernicus was born and died in Royal Prussia, a region that had been a part of the Kingdom of Poland since 1466. He was a polyglot and polymath who obtained a doctorate in canon law and also practiced as a physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist. Like the rest of his family, he was a third order Dominican.

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In Copernicus’ time, people were often called after the places where they lived. Like the Silesian village that inspired it, Copernicus’ surname has been spelled variously. The surname likely had something to do with the local Silesian copper-mining industry, though some scholars assert that it may have been inspired by the dill plant (in Polish, “koperek” or “kopernik”) that grows wild in Silesia. Numerous spelling variants of the name are documented for the astronomer and his relatives. The name first appeared as a place name in Silesia in the 13th century, where it was spelled variously in Latin documents. During his childhood, about 1480, the name of his father (and thus of his son) was recorded in Thorn as Niclas Koppernigk. At Kraków he signed himself, in Latin, Nicolaus Nicolai de Torunia (Nicolaus, son of Nicolaus, of Toruń). At Bologna, in 1496, he registered in the Matricula Nobilissimi Germanorum Collegii as Dominus Nicolaus Kopperlingk de Thorn. At Padua he signed himself “Nicolaus Copernik,” later “Coppernicus” His Latinized generally had two “p”s (in 23 of 31 documents extant), but later in life he used a single “p”. On the title page of De revolutionibus, Rheticus published the name as (in the Latin genitive) “Nicolai Copernici”.

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Some time before 1514 Copernicus made available to friends his “Commentariolus” (“Little Commentary”), a forty-page manuscript describing his ideas about the heliocentric hypothesis. Thereafter he continued gathering data for a more detailed work. About 1532 Copernicus had basically completed his work on the manuscript of Dē revolutionibus, but despite urging by his closest friends, he resisted openly publishing his views, not wishing—as he said—to risk the scorn “to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses.” His fears were justified. His heliocentric (sun-centered) hypothesis was elegant but lacked all proof. If the earth moves why don’t we fall off? What is pushing the earth if it moves? What keeps it in orbit? Copernicus and his contemporaries had no answers to these fundamental questions, nor did Galileo when he was put on trial for supporting Galileo. It was well over a century before Isaac Newton solved the puzzle.

Copernicus’ “Commentariolus” listed the “assumptions” upon which his heliocentric theory was based, as follows:

  1. There is no one center of all the celestial circles or spheres.
  2. The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only of gravity and of the lunar sphere.
  3. All the spheres revolve about the sun as their midpoint, and therefore the sun is the center of the universe.
  4. The ratio of the earth’s distance from the sun to the height of the firmament (outermost celestial sphere containing the stars) is so much smaller than the ratio of the earth’s radius to its distance from the sun that the distance from the earth to the sun is imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firmament.
  5. Whatever motion appears in the firmament arises not from any motion of the firmament, but from the earth’s motion. The earth together with its circumjacent elements performs a complete rotation on its fixed poles in a daily motion, while the firmament and highest heaven abide unchanged.
  6. What appear to us as motions of the sun arise not from its motion but from the motion of the earth and our sphere, with which we revolve about the sun like any other planet. The earth has, then, more than one motion.
  7. The apparent retrograde and direct motion of the planets arises not from their motion but from the earth’s. The motion of the earth alone, therefore, suffices to explain so many apparent inequalities in the heavens.

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These are, for the most part, quite reasonable assumptions and make the mathematics of the solar system so much simpler and more accurate. The latter pleased many clergy whose job it was to keep the calendar accurate and to set the timing of Easter annually based on equinoxes and full moons.

In 1533, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter delivered a series of lectures in Rome outlining Copernicus’ theory. Pope Clement VII and several Catholic cardinals heard the lectures and were interested in the theory. On 1 November 1536, Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg, Archbishop of Capua, wrote to Copernicus from Rome:

Some years ago word reached me concerning your proficiency, of which everybody constantly spoke. At that time I began to have a very high regard for you. For I had learned that you had not merely mastered the discoveries of the ancient astronomers uncommonly well but had also formulated a new cosmology. In it you maintain that the earth moves; that the sun occupies the lowest, and thus the central, place in the universe. Therefore with the utmost earnestness I entreat you, most learned sir, unless I inconvenience you, to communicate this discovery of yours to scholars, and at the earliest possible moment to send me your writings on the sphere of the universe together with the tables and whatever else you have that is relevant to this subject.

So much for the false notion that the church opposed Copernicus. By then Copernicus’ work was nearing its definitive form, and rumors about his theory had reached educated people all over Europe. Despite urgings from many quarters, Copernicus delayed publication of his book, perhaps from fear of criticism—a fear delicately expressed in the subsequent dedication of his masterpiece to Pope Paul III. Scholars disagree on whether Copernicus’ concern was limited to possible astronomical and philosophical objections, or whether he was also concerned about religious objections. I’d like to believe that Copernicus, as a good scientist, was less concerned about religious objections than about objections from other scientists because his hypothesis was devoid of proof from the physics of the day.

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Copernicus was still working on De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (even if not certain that he wanted to publish it) when in 1539 Georg Joachim Rheticus, a Wittenberg mathematician, arrived in Frombork. Philipp Melanchthon, a close theological ally of Martin Luther, had arranged for Rheticus to visit several astronomers and study with them. Rheticus became Copernicus’ pupil, staying with him for two years and writing a book, Narratio prima (First Account), outlining the essence of Copernicus’ theory. In 1542 Rheticus published a treatise on trigonometry by Copernicus (later included in the second book of De revolutionibus).

Under strong pressure from Rheticus, and having seen the favorable first general reception of his work, Copernicus finally agreed to give De revolutionibus to his close friend, Tiedemann Giese, bishop of Chełmno (Kulm), to be delivered to Rheticus for printing by the German printer Johannes Petreius at Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Germany. While Rheticus initially supervised the printing, he had to leave Nuremberg before it was completed, and he handed over the task of supervising the rest of the printing to a Lutheran theologian, Andreas Osiander.

Osiander added an unauthorized and unsigned preface, defending the work against those who might be offended by the novel hypotheses. He explained that astronomers may find different causes for observed motions, and choose whatever is easier to grasp. As long as a hypothesis allows reliable computation, it does not have to match what a philosopher might seek as the truth.

Toward the close of 1542, Copernicus was seized with apoplexy and paralysis, and he died at age 70 on 24 May 1543. Legend has it that he was presented with the final printed pages of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium on the very day that he died, allowing him to take farewell of his life’s work. He is reputed to have awoken from a stroke-induced coma, looked at his book, and then died peacefully. This is a quaint story, even if fictitious, leading me to observe as a young professor that to get tenure I had to publish OR perish, but Copernicus published AND perished.

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Copernicus was reportedly buried in Frombork Cathedral, where archaeologists for over two centuries searched in vain for his remains. Efforts to locate the remains in 1802, 1909, 1939 and 2004 had come to nought. In August 2005, however, a team led by Jerzy Gąssowski, head of an archaeology and anthropology institute in Pułtusk, after scanning beneath the cathedral floor, discovered what they believed to be Copernicus’ remains. The find came after a year of searching, and the discovery was announced only after further research, on 3 November 2008. Gąssowski said he was “almost 100 percent sure it is Copernicus.” Forensic expert Capt. Dariusz Zajdel of the Polish Police Central Forensic Laboratory used the skull to reconstruct a face that closely resembled the features—including a broken nose and a scar above the left eye—on a Copernicus self-portrait. Zajdel also determined that the skull belonged to a man who had died around age 70—Copernicus’ age at the time of his death.

Polish cooking has evolved considerably since the time of Copernicus, and is markedly similar to the cuisines of Slavs and Germans in many respects. Rosół is a traditional Polish meat soup. The most popular variety is rosół z kury, or clear chicken soup. It is commonly served with fine noodles, in other words, chicken noodle soup. It is one of the most popular Polish soups and is served on family dinners and also is a traditional soup for weddings. It is also said to be a great remedy if one catches a cold. The name “rosół” derives from a dish made of salted meat (used for preservation before refrigeration) cooked in water to make it more edible. Later fresh meat was used instead of salted. Much later that dish of cooked meat became a soup.

There are lots of types of rosół, such as: rosół królewski (royal rosół), made of three meats: beef or veal, white poultry (hen, turkey or chicken) and dark poultry such as duck or goose, a few dried king boletes, one single cabbage leaf and variety of vegetables as parsley, celery, carrot, leek. The cooking must take at least six hours of sensitive boiling on small fire.

Rosół myśliwski (hunter’s rosół), made of variety of wild birds as well as pheasant, capercaillie, wood grouse, black grouse or grey partridge, with a small addition of roe deer meat, wild mushrooms, and 2-3 juniper berries.

Here is a rough translation of a recipe from 1682:

This is the way to cook Polish rosół: take beef meat or veal, hazel grouse or partridge, and whatever meat that can be cooked in rosół [not pork]. Soak it, lay in a pot, then strain and pour over meat, add parsley, butter, salt, and skim well. One has to know what to put in the rosół for it not to smell, that is, dill, onion or garlic, nutmeg, rosemary or pepper. Lime would spoil any rosół as well.

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In essence, therefore, you are talking about a Polish version of pot-au-feu. So your task is simply to choose your meats and vegetables, and take your time. I’d use equal quantities of stewing beef, bowling fowl, and duck. Place them in a big stock pot, cover with light stock or water, add coarsely cut carrot, celery and leek, plus some dried mushrooms, bring very slowly to a gentle simmer, and cook over the lowest heat for 6 hours. Skim the top as needed.

Refrigerate overnight.

In the morning remove any congealed fat. Reheat the pot and debone all the meats. Then serve meats, vegetable and broth in deep bowls with dark rye bread. You’re aiming for a very clear, clean, but flavorful broth.

Jan 202016
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Sebastian. According to martyrologies he was killed during the Roman emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. Despite this being the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian, he was, according to legend, rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he went to Diocletian to harass him about his sins, and as a result was ordered clubbed to death. The details of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom were first written about by 4th-century bishop Ambrose of Milan, in his sermon (number 22) on Psalm 118. Ambrose stated that Sebastian came from Milan and that he was already venerated there at that time.

According to Acta Sanctorum, of unknown origin, but attributed to Ambrose by the 17th century hagiographer Jean Bolland, Sebastian was from Gallia Narbonensis in southeast France who was a student in Milan. In 283, Sebastian entered the army in Rome under Emperor Carinus to assist enlisted Christians. Because of his courage he became one of the captains of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian.

Although Sebastian had concealed his faith, in 286 was found out. Diocletian commanded that he be bound to a stake so that archers from Mauritania could shoot arrows at him. The archers shot at him until he was full of arrows, and left him there for dead. Miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. Irene of Rome, the widow of Castulus (who had been converted by Sebastian and martyred by Diocletian), went to retrieve his body to bury it, and discovered he was still alive. So she brought him back to her house and nursed him back to health.

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Sebastian later stood on a route where Diocletian was to pass and harangued him for his cruelties against Christians. Diocletian who had presumed Sebastian to be dead was greatly astonished and gave orders for him to be seized and beaten to death with cudgels. His body was thrown into the common sewer, but a pious woman, called Lucina, who was visited by Sebastian in a vision, had it quietly removed, and buried in the catacombs at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus, where the Basilica of St. Sebastian (San Sebastiano fuori le mura) now stands.

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The church was rebuilt in the 1610s under the patronage of Scipione Borghese. St. Ado, Eginard, Sigebert, and other contemporary authors relate that, in the reign of Louis Debonnair, Pope Eugenius II gave the body of St. Sebastian to Hilduin, Abbot of St. Denys, who brought it into France, and it was deposited at Saint Medard Abbey, at Soissons, on the 8th of December 826.

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Sebastian’s cranium was brought to the town of Ebersberg (Germany) in 934. A Benedictine abbey was founded there and became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in southern Germany. It is said the silver-encased cranium was used as a cup in which to present wine to the faithful during the feast of Saint Sebastian.

During the Middle Ages, Sebastian was a popular saint, particularly because he was invoked against outbreaks of the plague. But in modern times his popularity has waned. His attempted execution by arrows has been an enduring artistic subject down to the present, however.

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Numerous towns and regions are named for Saint Sebastian, so you could pick a recipe from any one of them. I’ve chosen two seasonal soups from the region of Milan because it was Sebastian’s home for a while, and because I live nearby. Zuppa di porri e bietole (leek and Swiss chard soup) is easy to make, and a warming dish at this time of year. Leeks and chard are plentiful right now in northern Italy. Wash the vegetables thoroughly, chop them coarsely, and poach them in rich chicken stock. Done !! Some people add cooked rice for substance.

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Zupp alla pavese is also a simple dish, but is considered very elegant. Take 2 slices of day-old bread and fry them in a mix of olive oil and butter until golden. Place them in a shallow bowl and crack an egg over each slice. Pour in boiling stock which will lightly cook the eggs. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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Jan 192016
 

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Today is the birthday (1809) of Edgar Allan Poe, best known now for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. But Poe is sometimes considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is also credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. In his day he was perhaps best known as a literary critic with a sharp tongue and bitter wit. He was the first well-known U.S. writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career. Nowadays commentators are often quick to point out that Poe’s hard times were “his own fault” (in those words). I find such a judgment hard to take. Yes, he was an alcoholic, and, yes, he made some poor decisions. But he was a man of integrity and honesty. I certainly don’t see his desire to live by writing as a flaw, but, rather, as an enviable stance to take, requiring a dedication that few are capable of.

So . . . I’ll leave you to read about his life if you are interested – his childhood abandonment by his father and death of his mother; his troubled relationship with his stepfather; his lifelong addiction; the death of his brother; the full scope of his literary career; his marriage to his cousin when he was 26 and she was 13; etc. etc. Instead I want to dwell on three things: his death, the Poe toaster, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” The last, first.

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I’m not a fan of Poe’s writing in general. I find it all a bit bleak and troubling. But I return to “The Cask of Amontillado” once in a while. I am not sure of the precise nature of my fascination. Some of it lies in the inherent vagueness of the plot. Under it all is the tale of a man whose fortunes have suffered, he believes, at the hand of another, and seeks revenge. His revenge via murder is cunning and brutal. The details in the story are at one and the same time crystal clear and obscure, yet the broad strokes are straightforward enough – “you have wronged me, so I am going to kill you in a way that is cruel and undetectable.” Poe, master of the detective story, presents us with a perfect crime. I don’t doubt there was an element of fantasy in the tale, as many have suggested, of Poe seeking revenge on a real opponent. With whom do you empathize – murderer or victim? I’ve tended to vilify the victim, but I can’t bring myself to praise or identify with the murderer. The story is complex and keeps me pondering from time to time. Does revenge solve anything?

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On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning (at the age of 40). Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul.” All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery. A fitting end for the master of the macabre. Yet . . .

“Poe Toaster” is a media name popularly used to refer to an unidentified person (or more probably two persons in succession, possibly father and son) who, for over seven decades, paid an annual tribute to Poe by visiting the cenotaph marking his original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, in the early hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed.

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According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster made the annual visitation from some time in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son.” Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010 there was no visit by the Toaster, nor has he appeared any year since, triggering speculation that the 75-year tradition has ended (2009 being the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth).

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Reports have it that Poe survived on bread and molasses during his more impoverished times. Washed down with a glass of brandy (or amontillado) that would certainly be a fitting, if sparse, tribute. Otherwise I can find precious little indication of his food tastes. However, the rather small, regional pizza chain, Dewey’s (Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri) offers the “Edgar Allan Poe.” I cannot find the reasoning behind the name. If you can’t travel to a Dewey’s location you can make a reasonable simulacrum. You’ll need to make a thin crust (I buy the dough), brush it with good olive oil, then top with mushrooms, kalamata olives, whole roasted garlic cloves and three cheeses: mozzarella, fontina, and crumbles of fresh goat cheese.

Dec 102015
 

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Today is the birthday (1830) of poet Emily Elizabeth Dickinson. Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, and spent all of her life there. Although part of a prominent family with strong ties to its community, Dickinson lived much of her life in seclusion. After studying at the Amherst Academy for seven years in her youth, she briefly attended the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary before returning to her family’s house in Amherst. Considered an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom. Dickinson never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence.

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While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly 1,800 poems were published during her lifetime. The work that was published during her lifetime was usually altered significantly by the publishers to fit the conventional poetic rules of the time. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme (near rhyme) as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends.

Although Dickinson’s acquaintances were most likely aware of her writing, it was not until after her death in 1886 — when Lavinia, Dickinson’s younger sister, discovered her cache of poems — that the breadth of her work became apparent to the public. Her first collection of poetry was published in 1890 by personal acquaintances Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, though both heavily edited the content. A complete, and mostly unaltered, collection of her poetry became available for the first time when scholar Thomas H. Johnson published The Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1955. Despite some unfavorable reception and skepticism over the late 19th and early 20th centuries regarding her literary prowess, her work is more highly regarded nowadays.

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When my son was 7 years old his teacher took his class on a field trip to Amherst, preceded by a lengthy series of talks about Dickinson and her poetry. He was captivated and learnt many of her poems by heart. Whilst in Amherst he visited famous sites and bought her complete works (which he pored over for months). I’ll have to find out if the love affair persists to this day. I, however, am less enthused. On the one hand I can see her place in the poetic world as transitional from classic Romanticism to modernism, and admire her for that. But, on the other, while her playfulness with rhyme, spelling, capitalization, and such, break the old rules, I don’t find it particularly interesting. Nor do her themes appeal much. I’m not enamored of Yankee culture in general, and don’t resonate in particular with the musings of a conscious social isolate. I can handle only so much first person poetry that seems largely devoid of human contact except when it comes to death. Its quirkiness seems almost entirely New England in spirit. I do readily admit that this is a matter of personal choice. You will at least, I hope, give me credit for celebrating her even though I care little for her work.

I’ll give you this sample to show I don’t dislike everything she wrote:

I MEANT to have but modest needs,    
Such as content, and heaven;    
Within my income these could lie,    
And life and I keep even.    
 
But since the last included both,            
It would suffice my prayer    
But just for one to stipulate,    
And grace would grant the pair.    
 
And so, upon this wise I prayed,—    
Great Spirit, give to me            
A heaven not so large as yours,    
But large enough for me.  

A smile suffused Jehovah’s face;    
The cherubim withdrew;    
Grave saints stole out to look at me,            
And showed their dimples, too.    
 
I left the place with all my might,—    
My prayer away I threw;    
The quiet ages picked it up,    
And Judgment twinkled, too,            
 
That one so honest be extant    
As take the tale for true    
That “Whatsoever you shall ask,    
Itself be given you.”    
 
But I, grown shrewder, scan the skies    
With a suspicious air,—    
As children, swindled for the first,    
All swindlers be, infer.

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I am also given to like the fact that she loved to tend the flower garden at home. This is a solitary pleasure which I enjoyed for many decades. Judith Farr notes that Dickinson, during her lifetime, “was known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet”. Dickinson studied botany from the age of nine and, along with her sister, tended the garden at Homestead. During her lifetime, she assembled a collection of pressed plants in a 66-page leather-bound herbarium. It contained 424 pressed flower specimens that she collected, classified, and labeled using the Linnaean system. The Homestead garden was well-known and admired locally in its time. It has not survived, and Dickinson kept no garden notebooks or plant lists, but a clear impression can be formed from the letters and recollections of friends and family. Her niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, remembered “carpets of lily-of-the-valley and pansies, platoons of sweetpeas, hyacinths, enough in May to give all the bees of summer dyspepsia. There were ribbons of peony hedges and drifts of daffodils in season, marigolds to distraction—a butterfly utopia”. In particular, Dickinson cultivated scented exotic flowers, writing that she “could inhabit the Spice Isles merely by crossing the dining room to the conservatory, where the plants hang in baskets”. Dickinson would often send her friends bunches of flowers with verses attached, but “they valued the posy more than the poetry”.

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It is also known that Dickinson loved to bake, although precious little of that endeavor survives either. This blog gives a good description of her recipe for coconut cake.

http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2011/12/emily-dickinsons-coconut-cake-2/

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The “recipe” is no more than a list of ingredients:

1 cup cocoanut

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoonful soda

1 teaspoonful cream of tartar

This makes one half the rule–

I should hope that any competent baker can figure out the method. If not, consult the link above. This is not something I am ever likely to want to bake.