Apr 172016
 

lw5

Today is the birthday (1880) of Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, the British archaeologist who discovered the Biblical city of Ur  of the Chaldees (in modern day Iraq). Ur means ‘city’ in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian. Genesis says that Ur of the Chaldees was the birthplace of Abraham but many scholars did not believe it existed until Woolley’s discoveries. He is grouped with a number of early 20th century archeologists credited with bringing a modern approach to the study.

Woolley was the son of a clergyman, and was brother to Geoffrey Harold Woolley, VC and George Cathcart Woolley. He was born in Upper Clapton now part of the London Borough of Hackney, and educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead and New College, Oxford. He was interested in excavations from a young age.

In 1905, Woolley became an assistant at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was volunteered by Arthur Evans to run the excavations on the Roman site at Corbridge for Francis Haverfield and began his archeological career there in 1906, later admitting in Spadework that “I had never studied archaeological methods even from books … and I had not any idea how to make a survey or a ground-plan.” He was one of the first  of the ‘modern’ archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history. Previously archeologists were more in the mold of Indiana Jones – robbing sites of “precious” artifacts and not concerning themselves with the reconstruction of ancient cultures (a popular image of archeology that I wish would die). T. E. Lawrence worked with Woolley on the excavation of the Hittite city of Carchemish from 1912–14.

lw4

Woolley’s work at Ur (a joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania) began in 1922, and he made important discoveries in the course of excavating the royal cemeteries there, including the Copper Bull and a pair of Ram in a Thicket figurines, one of which is in the British Museum and the other in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

ur1

When this one was discovered, the 16.5 inch figure had been crushed flat by the weight of the soil above it and its inner wooden core had decomposed. This wooden core had been finely cut for the face and legs, but the body had been more roughly modeled. Woolley used wax to keep the pieces together as it was excavated, and the figure was gently pressed back into its original shape. The ram’s head and legs are layered in gold leaf which had been hammered against the wood and stuck to it with a thin wash of bitumen, while its ears are copper but which are now green with verdigris. The horns and the fleece on its shoulders are of lapis lazuli, and the body’s fleece is made of shell, attached to a thicker coat of bitumen. The figure’s genitals are gold, while its belly was silver plate, now oxidised beyond restoration. The tree is also covered in gold leaf with gold flowers. The figure stands on a small rectangular base decorated with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. The figure was originally attached to the flowering shrub by silver chains around its fetlocks, but these chains have completely decayed. It is thought that the two figures originally faced each other as confronted animals, and that the tubes going up from their shoulders were used to support something, probably a bowl or similar object. Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder in Mesopotamia, was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs. Christie later married Woolley’s young assistant, Max Mallowan.

lw1

Ur was the burial site of many Sumerian royals. Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth. Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and silver jewelry, cups and other furnishings. The most extravagant tomb was that of “Queen” Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi’s tomb was untouched by looters. Inside the tomb, many well-preserved items were found, including a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian. Her body was found buried along with those of two attendants, who had presumably been poisoned to continue to serve her after death. Woolley was able to reconstruct Pu-Abi’s funeral ceremony from objects found in her tomb. Her headdress, cylinder seal and body were formerly on display at the University of Pennsylvania; however, they are currently being displayed in the British Museum in London.

lw3

In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilizations. This led him to the Syrian city of Al Mina. From 1937–39, he worked in Tell Atchana.

Woolley was one of the first archaeologists to propose that the flood described in Genesis was local rather than global after identifying a flood-stratum at Ur: “400 miles long and 100 miles wide; but for the occupants of the valley that was the whole world.” Such proposals led to some dramatic rethinking of the way Genesis should be interpreted, and, in turn, provoked decades of debate.

Woolley died on 20 February 1960 at age 79.

lw6

The ancient Mesopotamians used beer and bread as staples (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/birth-scotch-whisky/ ).  We also have the earliest known written recipes in cuneiform documenting the basics of cooking in the region.  It is exactly as one might expect. Main ingredients (at least for royal cooking) are meats (fowl, pigeon, mutton, beef, and gazelle), fish, eggs, vegetables and pulses, flavored with garlic, coriander, and cumin. Recipes call for searing the meat then cooking in water with leeks, onions, garlic and flavorings.

It doesn’t take much imagination to recreate something close. The original recipes are translated here:

lw7

The originals contain ingredients and some rudimentary directions for cooking. For lunch today I am cooking the following:

©Mesopotamian Rabbit Stew

Ingredients

1 fresh rabbit jointed in 8 pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
ground coriander and cumin (to taste)

Instructions

Brown rabbit pieces on all sides in a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Cover the meat with broth (or water).  Add chopped leeks and green onions. Season with chopped garlic, coriander and cumin to taste.

Simmer over low heat for 1 to 2 hours (depending on the age of the meat), or until the meat is tender. I usually let the sauce reduce, but you can serve it as a soupy stew as well.

Serve in deep bowls with flat bread.

Oct 172015
 

lbf4

The London Beer Flood occurred on this date in 1814 in the parish of St. Giles in London at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road. A vat containing over 135,000 imperial gallons (610,000 L) of beer ruptured, causing other vats in the same building to succumb in a domino effect. As a result, more than 323,000 imperial gallons (1,470,000 L) of beer burst out and gushed into the streets. The wave of beer destroyed two homes and crumbled the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub, trapping teenage employee Eleanor Cooper under the rubble. Within minutes neighboring George Street and New Street were swamped with beer, killing a mother and daughter who were taking tea, and surging through a room of people gathered for a wake. The brewery was among the poor houses and tenements of the St Giles Rookery, where whole families lived in basement rooms that quickly filled with beer. At least eight people were known to have drowned in the flood or died from injuries.

lbf1

The brewery was eventually taken to court over the accident, but the disaster was ruled to be an Act of God by the courts, leaving no one responsible. The company found it difficult to cope with the financial implications of the disaster, with a significant loss of sales made worse because they had already paid duty on the beer. They made a successful application to Parliament reclaiming the duty which allowed them to continue trading.

lbf5

The flood was the result of the general method of brewing porter. Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London in the 18th century from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The history and development of stout and porter are intertwined. The name “stout” as used for a dark beer is believed to have come about because strong porters were marketed under such names as “Extra Porter”, “Double Porter”, and “Stout Porter”. The term “Stout Porter” would later be shortened to just “Stout”. For example, Guinness Extra Stout was originally called Extra Superior Porter and was only given the name Extra Stout in 1840.

Porter was originally a more-aged development of the brown beers already being made in London. Before 1700, London brewers sent out their beer very young and any aging was either performed by the publican or a dealer. Porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and dispatched in a condition fit to be drunk immediately. It was the first beer that could be made on any large scale. Early London porters were strong beers by modern standards. Early trials with the hydrometer in the 1770s recorded porter as having an OG (original gravity) of 1.071 and 6.6% ABV. Increased taxation during the Napoleonic Wars pushed its gravity down to around 1.055, where it remained for the rest of the 19th century. The popularity of the style prompted brewers to produce porters in a wide variety of strengths. These started with Single Stout Porter at around 1.066, Double Stout Porter (such as Guinness) at 1.072, Triple Stout Porter at 1.078 and Imperial Stout Porter at 1.095 and more. During the 19th century the porter suffix was gradually dropped.

lbf2

The large London porter breweries pioneered many technological advances, such as the use of the thermometer (about 1760) and the hydrometer (1770). The use of the latter transformed the nature of porter. The first porters were brewed from 100% brown malt. Now brewers were able to accurately measure the yield of the malt they used, and noticed that brown malt, though cheaper than pale malt, only produced about two thirds as much fermentable material. When the malt tax was increased to help pay for the Napoleonic War, brewers had an incentive to use less malt. Their solution was to use a proportion of pale malt and add coloring to obtain the expected hue. When a law was passed in 1816 allowing only malt and hops to be used in the production of beer (a sort of British Reinheitsgebot), they were left in a quandary. Their problem was solved by Wheeler’s invention of the almost black patent malt in 1817. It was now possible to brew porter from 95% pale malt and 5% patent malt, though most London brewers continued to use some brown malt for flavor. Until about 1800, all London porter was matured in large vats, often holding several hundred barrels, for between six and eighteen months before being racked into smaller casks to be delivered to pubs.

lbf7

By the mid-20th century porter had fallen out of favor and was widely discontinued in favor of stout. But it started to make a comeback in the latter part of the century and has a certain vogue in England and the continent, as well as in the U.S. It is not as heavy and bitter as the more common stouts and is sometimes produced with fruit flavorings similar to some German and Belgian beers. Either plain or flavored, porter makes an excellent choice for braising beef. Here’s a fairly standard recipe for braising a brisket which I used all the time when I lived in beer country. Like porter, this dish is much better if “aged” in the refrigerator for a day or two.

lbf8

Porter Braised Brisket

Ingredients

1 tbsp coarse kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dry English mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
6 lb flat-cut brisket, trimmed but with some fat still attached
2 tbsp rendered bacon fat
beef broth
12-oz bottle porter
2 tsp dark brown sugar
6 cups thinly sliced onions
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 lb medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise
2 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tbsp malt vinegar

Instructions

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Mix salt, pepper, mustard, sage and thyme in small bowl. Rub herb mixture all over brisket. Heat the bacon fat in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and brown on both sides. Transfer the brisket to a platter. Add 2 cups of beef broth to the pot and bring to a vigorous boil, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Stir in the porter and brown sugar, and bring to boil. Return brisket to pot, fat side down. Layer the onions on top of the brisket

Cover the pot, place in the oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove the pot from oven and turn the brisket over so that the onions and garlic are now on the bottom in the liquid. Return the pot to the oven and braise uncovered 30 minutes. Add 1 cup of broth. Cover and bake for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Transfer the brisket to a platter. Add 1 more cup of broth to the pot, then add the mushrooms and carrots. Return the brisket to the pot. Cover and return to the oven and braise until the meat and carrots are tender, adding more broth if needed to cover vegetables (about 45 minutes). Cool, then refrigerate covered for 1 to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spoon off any fat from the surface of the brisket pan juices and discard. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and thinly slice across the grain. Place the brisket slices in a large roasting pan. Bring the pan juices with vegetables to a simmer in a pot and add the Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more vinegar if desired. Pour the pan juices and vegetables over the brisket in the roasting pan. Cover the roasting pan tightly with heavy-duty foil and cook in the oven until brisket slices and vegetables are heated through (about 1 hour)

Serve meat, vegetables and sauce together on a heated platter with crusty and a green salad.