Apr 092018
 

On 9th April, 1557 Mikael Agricola (Michael Olaui), the “father of literary Finnish” died, and Elias Lönnrot, a collector of Finnish folklore was born on this date in 1802. Because of the coincidence, today is marked as Finnish Language Day. Michael Olaui or Mikkel Olofsson (Finnish: Mikael Olavinpoika) was born in Nyland (Uusimaa) in the village of Torsby in Pernå (Pernaja), Sweden (now Finland), around the year 1510. He was named after the patron saint of Pernå’s church. The exact date of his birth, like most details of his life, is unknown. His family was a quite wealthy peasant family according to the local bailiff’s accounting. He had three sisters, but their names are not known. His teachers apparently recognized his aptitude for languages and his rector, Bartholomeus, sent him to Viborg (Finnish: Viipuri; now Vyborg, Russia) for Latin school and some priestly training, where he attended the school of Erasmus. It is not known whether his first language was Finnish or Swedish. Pernå was mostly a Swedish-speaking district, but the language he used in his works indicates that he was a native speaker of Finnish. However, he mastered both languages like a native speaker and was possibly a bilingual child.

When Michael studied in Viborg he assumed the surname Agricola (“farmer”). Surnames based on one’s father’s status and occupation were common for first-generation scholars at the time. It was probably there that he first came in touch with the Reformation and Humanism. Viipuri castle was ruled by a German count, Johann, who had served the king of Sweden, Gustav Vasa. The count was a supporter of the Reformation, and they already held Lutheran services.

In 1528 Agricola followed his teacher to Turku (Åbo), then the center of the Finnish side of the Swedish realm and the capital of the bishopric. There Agricola became a scribe in bishop Martinus Skytte’s office. While in Turku Agricola met Martin Luther’s first Finnish student Petrus Särkilahti, who eagerly spread the idea of the Reformation. Särkilahti died in 1529, and it was up to Agricola to continue Särkilahti’s work. Agricola was ordained for the priesthood circa 1531. In 1536 the bishop of Turku sent Agricola to study in Wittenberg. He concentrated on the lectures of Philipp Melanchthon. He also studied under Luther. Agricola got recommendations to the Swedish king, Gustav Vasa, from both of the reformers. He sent two letters to Gustav, asking for a confirmation for a stipend. In 1537 he started translating the New Testament into Finnish, thus helping establish Finnish as a written language.

In 1539 Agricola returned to Turku and ended up as the rector of Turku Cathedral School. He did not like his job, calling his students “untamed animals.” At the time Gustav Vasa had confiscated the property of the church when he was consolidating his power, but he also drove the Reformation. In 1544 Agricola received an order from the crown to send several talented young men to Stockholm’s taxing offices. For some reason, Agricola did not obey until the order was sent again the next year, with a more menacing tone. This episode probably affected their relations negatively.

In 1546 Agricola lost his home and school in the Fire of Turku. On 22nd February 1548, Gustav Vasa ordered Agricola to retire from his position as rector. At this time Agricola was already married, but history knows his wife only by her name: Pirjo Olavintytär (Bridget, “daughter of Olavi”; Birgitta Olafsdotter, Brigida Olaui). His only son, Christian Agricola (Christianus Michaelis Agricola), was born 11th December 1550, and became the bishop of Tallinn in 1584.

When an old bishop died in 1554, Gustav Vasa had Agricola consecrated as the ordinarius of Turku parish – for all practical purposes Bishop of Turku and by extension the first Lutheran bishop for all Finland. Agricola was not a particularly strict or dedicated reformer, although he did remove the Canon of the Mass. In 1557 Agricola joined the delegation going to Russia and was in Moscow from 21st February to 24th March negotiating a peace treaty, the Treaty of Novgorod (1557). On 9th April he fell ill and died in Uusikirkko (now Polyane) village, part of the Kyrönniemi parish on the Karelian Isthmus. Agricola was buried inside Viipuri’s church, but the exact location of the grave is not known.

Elias Lönnrot (1802 – 1884) was a Finnish physician, philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for creating the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, (1835, enlarged 1849), from short ballads and lyric poems, gathered from the Finnish oral tradition during several expeditions in Finland, Russian Karelia, the Kola Peninsula and Baltic countries. Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa, Finland, which was then part of Sweden. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. The Great Fire of Turku (not to be confused with the 1548 Turku fire when Agricola lost his home !!), coincided with his first academic year. Because the university was destroyed in the fire, it was moved to Helsinki, the newly established administrative center of the Grand Duchy and the present capital city of Finland. Lönnrot followed and graduated in 1832.

Lönnrot got a job as district doctor of Kajaani in Eastern Finland during a time of famine and pestilence in the district. The famine had prompted the previous doctor to resign, making it possible for a very young doctor to get such a position. Several consecutive years of crop failure resulted in losses of population and livestock. In addition, lack of a hospital further complicated Lönnrot’s work. He was the sole doctor for 4,000 or so people, most of whom lived in small rural communities scattered across the district. As physicians and novel drugs were expensive at the time, most people relied on their village healers and locally available remedies. Lönnrot himself was keen on traditional remedies and also administered them. However, he believed strongly that preventive measures such as good hygiene, breastfeeding babies, and vaccines were the most effective measures for most of his patients.

His true passion lay in his native Finnish language. He began writing about the early Finnish language in 1827 and began collecting folk tales from rural people about that time. In 1831, the Finnish Literature Society was founded, and Lönnrot, being one of the founder members, received financial support from the society for his collecting efforts. Lönnrot went on extended leaves of absence from his doctor’s office; he toured the countryside of Finland, Sapmi (Lapland), and nearby portions of Russian Karelia. This led to a series of books: Kantele, 1829–1831 (the kantele is a Finnish traditional instrument); Kalevala, 1835–1836 (the “old” Kalevala); Kanteletar, 1840; Sananlaskuja, 1842 (Proverbs); an expanded second edition of Kalevala, 1849 (the “new” Kalevala). Lönnrot was recognized for his part in preserving Finland’s oral traditions by appointment to the Chair of Finnish Literature at the University of Helsinki in 1853.

He also undertook the task of compiling the first Finnish-Swedish dictionary (Finsk-Svenskt lexikon, 1866–1880). The result comprised over 200,000 entries, and many of the Finnish translations were coined by Lönnrot himself. His vast knowledge of traditional Finnish poetry made him an authority in Finland and many of his inventions have stuck. Finnish scientific terminology was particularly influenced by Lönnrot’s work and therefore many abstract terms that have a Latin or Greek etymology in mainstream European languages appear as native neologisms in Finnish. Examples from linguistics and medicine include kielioppi (grammar), kirjallisuus (literature), laskimo (vein) and valtimo (artery).

Botanists remember him for writing the first Finnish-language Flora Fennica – Suomen Kasvisto in 1860; in its day it was famed throughout Scandinavia, as it was among the very first common-language scientific texts. The second, expanded version was co-authored by Th. Saelan and published in 1866. The Flora Fennica was the first scientific work published in Finnish (rather than Latin). In addition, Lönnrot’s Flora Fennica includes many notes on plant uses in between his descriptions of flowers and leaves.

I have chosen the Finnish dish kalakukko for today’s celebratory recipe. I have given some Finnish dishes before, and they are all a bit basic. Get behind the inscrutable Finnish name, and you have something quite ordinary found across Europe: Kaalikääryleet (stuffed cabbage), Hernekeitto (split pea soup), Perunamuusi (mashed potatoes). Of course these dishes have local twists, and local ingredients make a difference. Kalakukko is sort of a pie, sort of a stuffed bread, sort of a pasty. It is fish, pork belly, and sometimes vegetables, wrapped in a rye bread dough and baked. Here’s a video (in Finnish) to give you the idea, and then I will give a recipe.

Kalakukko

Ingredients

Filling

2 lb small fish, cleaned and gutted (heads on or off as you choose)
1 ½ lbs belly pork, sliced like bacon
salt
1 tsp allspice

Dough

2 ½ cups tepid water (approx.)
3 ¼ cups rye flour
1 ¾ cups whole-wheat flour
4 tsp salt
½ oz active dry yeast

Instructions

Sift the flours and salt together into a mixing bowl.

Put the yeast in the water in a cup and stir.

When the yeast is fully dissolved, make a thick dough by pouring water into the dough and mixing well. The ratio of flour to water depends on the nature of the flours. This ratio of 1:2 by volume works well in Finland with Finnish flours. Where flours contain more gluten you should use slightly less water.

Set aside about 4 tablespoons of dough to be used later. Roll out the remaining dough into a circular shape about ¾ inch thick.

Assemble the meats on the dough. Use the video as a guide. Cover the inner half of the dough circle with half of the pork (the pork should cover a circle whose diameter is half the diameter of the rolled dough). Then put all of the fish over top of the pork, and add allspice and extra salt if you are using them. Finish with the second half of the pork.

Preheat the oven to 500˚F/260˚C.

Lift the edges of the dough all around the filling and glue together with a little water so that you have the filling surrounded from all directions with about ¾ inch-thick dough. Put upside down (the seam downwards) on a baking sheet and let it rise about half an hour at room temperature.

Put the kalakukko in a 500˚F oven for long enough to brown the dough, which will seal it against moisture. Then lower the temperature to about 250˚F/130˚C and let it bake for about 4 hours, or longer depending on the size of the fish (bigger fish need more cooking time). You can brush some melted butter over the top of the dough just after lowering the temperature. This will give it a prettier (browner) appearance. If it starts to leak while baking, fill holes with the dough which was set aside. In the video they wrap the kalakukko in foil for the second baking, which prevents leakage.

Cut a lid in the top to scoop out the filling, and serve accompanied by the bread casing. This dish may be eaten hot or cold.

 

Jan 072018
 

 

Today is the birthday (1891) of Zora Neale Hurston, African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist who is known not only for her contributions to African-American literature, but also for her portrayal of racial struggles in the American South, and works documenting her research on African-American folk traditions in Florida, and voodoo in Jamaican and Haiti. She is probably best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. . Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades, but interest revived after author Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in the March 1975 issue of Ms. Magazine.

Hurston was the sixth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. Her father was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, who later became a carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, where her father grew up and her grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida which later became the location of several of her important works. Eatonville was one of the first all-African-American towns to be incorporated into the United States (1887). Hurston said she always felt that Eatonville was “home” to her because she grew up there, and sometimes claimed it as her birthplace. Her father later was elected as mayor of the town in 1897 and in 1902 became minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist.

Eatonville was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of White society, and this upbringing undoubtedly influenced Hurston’s political outlook. She often sided with Southern conservatives who opposed integration, seeing “separate but equal” as a positive value, given that integration inevitably exposed African-Americans to racism and discrimination. The problem, of course, as was made clear by the Civil Rights movement is that the “separate” part is easy to accomplish, the “equal” part is not.

In 1917, Hurston began attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education (as well, perhaps to reflect her literary birth), the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth.[12] She graduated from the high school of Morgan State University in 1918. In 1918, Hurston began her studies at Howard University, where took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an associate degree in 1920. In 1921, she wrote a short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus. Hurston left Howard in 1924 and in 1925 was offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer to Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was the college’s sole African-American student.

Hurston received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928, when she was 37. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research directed by Franz Boas. She also worked with Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead was a fellow student. After graduating from Barnard, Hurston spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings.

In later life, in addition to continuing her literary career, Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, North Carolina. Hurston traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the American South and immersed herself in local cultural practices to conduct her anthropological research. Based on her work in the South, sponsored from 1928 to 1932 by Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy philanthropist, Hurston wrote Mules and Men in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti for research, with support from the Guggenheim Foundation. She drew from this for her anthropological work, Tell My Horse (1938). From October 1947 to February 1948, she lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, set in Florida.

Hurston never had much income from her writing and so later in life she took a number of poorly paid odd jobs to make ends meet. She worked at the Pan American World Airways Technical Library at Patrick Air Force Base in 1957, but was fired for being “too well-educated” for her job. Subsequently she moved to Fort Pierce, taking jobs where she could find them. She worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. At age 60 she was helped by public assistance, and at one point she even worked as a maid on Miami Beach’s Rivo Alto Island

During this period of financial stress and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke. She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973. Novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte D. Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.

Hurston has two distinct voices in her writing: one was a standard literary voice; the other was an attempt to capture the sounds and rhythms of Southern African-America speaking style. Here’s some examples of both:

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place

Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep.

At the beginning of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the lead character, Janie Crawford, returns from the Everglades, where she has shot her husband and been acquitted, to Eatonville, in ragged overalls, where all the women are gossipy and unwelcoming. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings her a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease . . . but it’ll kill hongry.”

The Savannah Cook Book: A collection of old fashioned receipts from Colonial kitchens by Harriet Ross Colquitt contains this recipe for mulatto rice:

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

Seems simple enough. I’m assuming that you use the bacon in another dish but keep the rendered fat for flavoring. On the other hand, I see no reason not to include the fried bacon in the dish.

Dec 092017
 

Today is the birthday (1848) of Joel Chandler Harris, a US journalist and author best known for his collection of Uncle Remus stories. Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, where he served as an apprentice on a plantation during his teenage years. He spent most of his adult life in Atlanta working as an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution. The Uncle Remus collection has had a mixed reception over the years. Some see it as racist, and an unwarranted appropriation of African-American folktales, while others see it as a groundbreaking and highly influential body of literature. There’s room for both views.

Harris’ mother, Mary Ann Harris, was an Irish immigrant, and his father, whose identity remains unknown, abandoned Mary Ann and the infant shortly after his birth. The boy was named Joel after his mother’s attending physician, Dr. Joel Branham, and Chandler was the name of his mother’s uncle. Harris remained self-conscious of his illegitimate birth throughout his life. A prominent physician, Dr. Andrew Reid, gave the Harris family a small cottage to use behind his mansion. Mary Harris worked as a seamstress and helped neighbors with their gardening to support herself and her son. She was an avid reader and instilled in her son a love of language.  He wrote later in life, “My desire to write—to give expression to my thoughts—grew out of hearing my mother read The Vicar of Wakefield.” Dr. Reid also paid for Harris’ school tuition for several years. In 1856, Harris briefly attended Kate Davidson’s School for Boys and Girls, but transferred to Eatonton School for Boys later that year. He had an undistinguished academic record and a habit of truancy. Harris excelled in reading and writing, but was mostly known for his pranks, mischief, and sense of humor. Practical jokes helped Harris cloak his shyness and insecurities about his red hair, Irish ancestry, and illegitimacy, leading to both trouble and a reputation as a leader among the older boys.

Harris quit school at age 16 to work. In March 1862, Joseph Addison Turner, owner of Turnwold Plantation nine miles east of Eatonton, hired Harris to work as a printer’s devil for his newspaper The Countryman. Harris learned to set type for the paper, and Turner allowed him to publish his own poems, book reviews, and humorous paragraphs. Harris lived on Turnwold Plantation, Joe Harris and had access to Turner’s library where he read Chaucer, Dickens, Sir Thomas Browne, Arabian Nights, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Thackeray, and Edgar Allan Poe. While at Turnwold Plantation, Harris spent hundreds of hours in the slave quarters during time off. He was less self-conscious there and felt his humble background as an illegitimate, red-headed son of an Irish immigrant helped foster an intimate connection with the slaves. He absorbed the stories, language, and inflections of people like Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy. The African-American animal tales they shared later became the foundation and inspiration for the Uncle Remus tales. George Terrell and Old Harbert in particular became models for Uncle Remus, as well as role models for Harris. Turner shut down The Countryman in May 1866 and Harris left the plantation with useless Confederate money and very few possessions.

Harris bounced around newspapers in the South until in 1876 he was hired by Henry W. Grady at the Atlanta Constitution, where he would remain for the next 24 years. In addition, he published local-color stories in magazines such as Scribner’s, Harper’s, and The Century. Not long after taking the newspaper job, Harris began writing the Uncle Remus stories as a serial to “preserve in permanent shape those curious mementoes of a period that will no doubt be sadly misrepresented by historians of the future.” The tales were reprinted across the United States, and Harris was approached by publisher D. Appleton and Company to compile them for a book. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings was published near the end of 1880.

Here’s his arguably most famous retelling of a slave tale: “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby”

“Didn’t the fox never catch the rabbit, Uncle Remus?” asked the little boy the next evening.

“He come mighty nigh it, honey, sho’s you born–Brer Fox did. One day atter Brer Rabbit fool ‘im wid dat calamus root, Brer Fox went ter wuk en got ‘im some tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun w’at he call a Tar-Baby, en he tuck dish yer Tar-Baby en he sot ‘er in de big road, en den he lay off in de bushes fer to see what de news wuz gwine ter be. En he didn’t hatter wait long, nudder, kaze bimeby here come Brer Rabbit pacin’ down de road–lippity-clippity, clippity -lippity–dez ez sassy ez a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer Rabbit come prancin’ ‘long twel he spy de Tar-Baby, en den he fotch up on his behime legs like he wuz ‘stonished. De Tar Baby, she sot dar, she did, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee – `nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.

“`How duz yo’ sym’tums seem ter segashuate?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.

“Brer Fox, he wink his eye slow, en lay low, en de Tar-Baby, she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.

“‘How you come on, den? Is you deaf?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Kaze if you is, I kin holler louder,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“‘You er stuck up, dat’s w’at you is,’ says Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘en  I’m gwine ter kyore you, dat’s w’at I’m a gwine ter do,’ sezee.

“Brer Fox, he sorter chuckle in his stummick, he did, but Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nothin’.

“‘I’m gwine ter larn you how ter talk ter ‘spectubble folks ef hit’s de las’ ack,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Ef you don’t take off dat hat en tell me howdy, I’m gwine ter bus’ you wide open,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“Brer Rabbit keep on axin’ ‘im, en de Tar-Baby, she keep on sayin’ nothin’, twel present’y Brer Rabbit draw back wid his fis’, he did, en blip he tuck ‘er side er de head. Right dar’s whar he broke his merlasses jug. His fis’ stuck, en he can’t pull loose. De tar hilt ‘im. But Tar-Baby, she stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Ef you don’t lemme loose, I’ll knock you agin,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, en wid dat he fotch ‘er a wipe wid de udder han’, en dat stuck. Tar-Baby, she ain’y sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Tu’n me loose, fo’ I kick de natal stuffin’ outen you,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, but de Tar-Baby, she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’. She des hilt on, en de Brer Rabbit lose de use er his feet in de same way. Brer Fox, he lay low. Den Brer Rabbit squall out dat ef de Tar-Baby don’t tu’n ‘im loose he butt ‘er cranksided. En den he butted, en his head got stuck. Den Brer Fox, he sa’ntered fort’, lookin’ dez ez innercent ez wunner yo’ mammy’s mockin’-birds.

“`Howdy, Brer Rabbit,’ sez Brer Fox, sezee. `You look sorter stuck up dis mawnin’,’ sezee, en den he rolled on de groun’, en laft en laft twel he couldn’t laff no mo’. `I speck you’ll take dinner wid me dis time, Brer Rabbit. I done laid in some calamus root, en I ain’t gwineter take no skuse,’ sez Brer Fox, sezee.”

Here Uncle Remus paused, and drew a two-pound yam out of the ashes.

“Did the fox eat the rabbit?” asked the little boy to whom the story had been told.

“Dat’s all de fur de tale goes,” replied the old man. “He mout, an den agin he moutent. Some say Judge B’ar come ‘long en loosed ‘im – some say he didn’t. I hear Miss Sally callin’. You better run ‘long.”

I’m not going to venture too far into the deep, dark, murky waters of Uncle Remus criticism. Disney’s Song of the South makes Uncle Remus and slavery in general into a playful, happy-go-lucky romp that is a travesty of the truth, but Harris is not responsible for that image; that’s on Disney’s scorecard. Harris seems to me to be genuinely caring for the tales and making an honest effort to present them in authentic voice. My professor at UNC when I was taking an MA in folklore had nothing good to say about Harris because the Uncle Remus tales were not verbatim transcriptions of narratives from slaves. This critique is just rank anachronism. In Harris’ day there were no professional folklorists with tape recorders faithfully notating tales and songs. The Grimms documented peasant tales and then edited them for publication, even though they were scholars of language and could have given verbatim versions. Andrew Lang was a professional folklorist, and he too dressed up folktales for publication. The only reason folklore as a discipline got started in the first place – as a branch of anthropology – was that early folklorists believed that uneducated peasants were the unwitting bearers of the riches of ancient cultures, and even though the modern tales and songs repeated by poor rural laborers were debased in comparison with the original high art that spawned them (because the peasants were careless with the treasures they had), the glories of old could be glimpsed in them. I hope I have contributed to showing that this point of view is complete nonsense. In comparison with the scholars, I would say that Harris’ retellings of the slave tales are probably truer to the original than those of the scholars.

I could also get into whether Harris was appropriating African-American culture because he was a privileged white man, whether he was patronizing to African-American voices, etc. etc., but I won’t. Figure it out for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that he preserved something that would have been lost otherwise. Among other things he helped the cause of anthropologists who wanted to counter the popular falsehood that African slaves arrived in the U.S. with nothing, and their subsequent acculturation was entirely Euro-centric. NO !!! Africans brought African culture (of various types) with them and it had a profound influence on the development of music, art, and literature in the United States. Many of the Uncle Remus tales have clear antecedents in West, Central, and South African animal trickster tales, the animal in question being either a hare or a spider. Some tales, virtually identical in basic form with Brer Rabbit tales, still exist in traditional African settings, the tar baby story being very common in numerous African cultures.

Uncle Remus makes reference to hoe cakes, or Johnny cakes, now and again, so here’s your recipe. Hoe cakes are griddle cakes similar to American breakfast pancakes, but with cornmeal mixed into the flour, and rather smaller. They have been popular in the South since plantation days. Nowadays some cooks add flavorings such as vanilla or nutmeg, but old-fashioned hoe cakes have none. They are usually eaten with butter and syrup. I suppose Aunt Jemima syrup is cutting a little close to the bone.

Hoe Cakes

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten
2½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
¾ cup milk
½ cup water
⅓ cup melted butter
butter for frying

Instructions

Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, water, egg, and melted butter. Mix the ingredients thoroughly to form a smooth batter.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a knob of butter and let it melt. Using a ladle that holds about 2 tablespoons, drop the pancake batter into the hot pan to make the hoe cakes one at a time. Do not overcrowd. I can usually make 4 in one batch.

Let each hoe cake fry until brown and crisp on one side. The top will bubble a little and start to set.  Turn with a spatula and brown the other side.

Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

Mar 122016
 

ja6

Today is the birthday of John Aubrey FRS, English antiquary, natural philosopher, and writer. He is probably best known (if known at all) as the author of Brief Lives, his collection of short, occasionally humorous or racy, biographical pieces. He was a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and who is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury monument. The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge are named after him, although there is considerable doubt as to whether the holes that he observed are those that currently bear the name. He was also a pioneer folklorist, collecting together a miscellany of material on customs, traditions and beliefs under the title “Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme”. He set out to compile county histories of both Wiltshire and Surrey, although both projects remained unfinished. His “Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum” (also unfinished) was the first attempt to compile a full-length study of English place-names. He had wider interests in applied mathematics and astronomy, and was friendly with many of the greatest scientists of the day.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, thanks largely to the popularity of Brief Lives, Aubrey was regarded as little more than an entertaining but quirky, eccentric and credulous gossip. Only in the 1970s did the full breadth and innovation of his scholarship begin to be more widely appreciated. He published little in his lifetime, and many of his most important manuscripts (for the most part preserved in the Bodleian Library http://www.bookofdaystales.com/bodleian-library/ ) remain unpublished, or published only in partial and badly edited form.

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In 1967, English director Patrick Garland created a one-man show, “Brief Lives”, based on Aubrey’s biographies. It starred Roy Dotrice and became the most successful one-man production ever produced, with Dotrice giving over 1800 performances over 40 years on both sides of the Atlantic. Aubrey scholars, have sometimes seen the production as over-emphasizing Aubrey’s eccentricities and lack of organization, to the detriment of a wider appreciation of his contributions to scholarship. This may be fair comment, but only partially. I saw the production in Oxford in 1973 and thoroughly enjoyed its portrayal of the man. After all, Aubrey’s work was generally unsystematic and quirky. Nonetheless his breadth of knowledge and insight come through.

Aubrey was born at Easton Piers or Percy, near Kington St Michael, Wiltshire, to a long-established and affluent gentry family with roots in the Welsh Marches. Richard Aubrey, his father, owned lands in Wiltshire and Herefordshire. For many years Aubrey was educated at home with a private tutor, and preferred reading in solitude, mostly because his father was far from intellectual, preferring hunting to learning. Aubrey read such books as came his way, including Bacon’s Essays, and studied geometry in secret. He was educated at the Malmesbury grammar school under Robert Latimer (who had been Thomas Hobbes’ teacher and whom Aubrey met later) He then studied at the grammar school at Blandford Forum, Dorset.

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He entered Trinity College, Oxford, in 1642, but his studies were interrupted by the English Civil War. His earliest antiquarian work dates from this period in Oxford. In 1646 he became a student of the Middle Temple. He made a great many friends at Oxford and began collecting an extensive library. He also spent much of his time in the country, and in 1649 he first discovered the megalithic remains at Avebury, which he later mapped and discussed in Monumenta Britannica, and showed Avebury to Charles II at the king’s request in 1663. His father died in 1652, leaving Aubrey large estates, but with them some complicated debts, that ultimately impoverished him. He was, however, able to survive courtesy of the generosity of his numerous friends.

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Aubrey was acquainted with many of the most celebrated writers, scientists, politicians and aristocrats of his day, as well as an extraordinary breadth of less well-placed individuals: booksellers, merchants, the royal seamstress, mathematicians and instrument makers. He claimed that his memory was “not tenacious” by 17th-century standards, but from the early 1640s he kept thorough (if haphazard) notes of observations in natural philosophy, his friends’ ideas, and antiquities. He also began to write “Lives” of scientists in the 1650s. In 1659 he was recruited to contribute to a collaborative county history of Wiltshire, leading to his unfinished collections on the antiquities and the natural history of the county. His erstwhile friend and fellow-antiquary Anthony Wood predicted that he would one day break his neck while running downstairs in haste to interview some retreating guest or other. Aubrey was an apolitical Royalist, who enjoyed the innovations characteristic of the Interregnum period while deploring the rupture in traditions and the destruction of ancient buildings brought about by civil war and religious change. He drank the King’s health in Interregnum Herefordshire, but with equal enthusiasm attended meetings in London of the republican Rota Club.

Aubrey died of an apoplexy, probably a stroke, while traveling, in June 1697, and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford.

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Aubrey simply wrote what he had seen, or heard. When transcribing hearsay, he displays a careful approach to the ascription of sources. For example, in his life of Thomas Chaloner he recorded an inaccurate and bawdy anecdote about Chaloner’s death, but subsequently found it to be in fact about James Chaloner. Aubrey let the initial story stand in his text, while highlighting the error in a marginal note. A number of similar occurrences suggest that he was interested not only in the oral history he was noting down, but in the very processes of transmission and corruption by which it was formed.

Here’s a few quotes that give a small idea of how he wrote:

Sir Walter, being strangely surprised and put out of his countenance at so great a table, gives his son a damned blow over the face. His son, as rude as he was, would not strike his father, but strikes over the face the gentleman that sat next to him and said, “Box about: twill come to my father anon.”

Arise Evans had a fungous nose, and said, it was revealed to him, that the King’s hand would cure him, and at the first coming of King Charles II into St. James’s Park, he kissed the King’s hand, and rubbed his nose with it; which disturbed the King, but cured him.

If Solomon counts the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth, there can be no objection why that also may not be reckoned amongst one’s remarkable and happy days.

Mr. William Shakespeare was born at Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbors, that when he was a boy he exercised his father’s trade, but when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style and make a speech.

This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.

Aubrey was very fond of collecting recipes for home cures, and was acquainted with a number of authors of recipe books, both medicinal and culinary. He was a friend of Sir Kenelm Digby’s son who gave publishers access to his father’s papers which resulted in The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669), which I have quoted before in my posts on 17th century figures.

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Here’s a section I am playing with now as I write:

A FRICACEE OF LAMB-STONES, OR SWEET-BREADS, OR CHICKEN, OR VEAL, OR MUTTON

Boil the meat in little pieces (if Chicken, flead and beaten) in the Pan with a pint of fair-water, with due seasoning. When it is very tender, put some Butter to it, and pour upon it a Liquor made of four yolks of Eggs beaten with a little white wine and some Verjuyce; and keep this in motion over the fire, till it be sufficiently thickened. Then pour it into a warm dish, and squeese some juyce of Orange upon it, and so serve it up. If you would have the meat first made brown and Rissolé, fry it first with Butter, till it be brown on the outside; then pour out all the Butter, and put water to it, in which boil it, and do all as before. If you like Onions or Garlike, you may put some to the water. Fresh broth may be used (both ways) instead of water, and maketh it more Savoury.

A NOURISHING HACHY

Take good Gravy of Mutton or Veal, or of both, with the fat clean skimmed off. Break into it a couple of new-laid Eggs, and stir them in it over a Chafing-dish of Coals; in the mean time, mingle some small cut juycy hashy of Rabet, Capon or Mutton with another parcel of like Gravy as above, till it be pretty thin. Then put this to the other upon the fire, and stir them well with a spoon, whiles they heat. When all is heated through, it will quicken of a sudden. You may put in at first a little chipping of crusty bread, if you will. Season this with white Pepper, Salt, juyce of Orange or Verjuyce, of Berberies, or Onion, or what you like best.

A pint of Gravy (or less) four or five spoonfulls of hashy, and two Eggs, is a convenient proportion for a light Supper.

Such Gravy, with an Onion split in two, lying in it, whiles it is heating, and a little Pepper and Salt, and juyce of Limon or Orange, and a few Chippings of light-bread, is very good Sauce for Partridges or Cocks.

The Nourishing Hachy is what catches my eye. I have some rabbit and lamb on the hob at present, and will make the sauce in a while. It looks rather like an allemande sauce which I have made a number of times in the past, and enjoy. Allemande sauce is based on velouté sauce, but thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream, and seasoned with lemon juice. Velouté is one of the five mother sauces of classic French cuisine as defined by Antoine Carême in The Art of French Cooking in the 19th century. Escoffier worked on sauce allemande in the early 20th century and renamed it sauce blonde. It is generally known today as sauce Parisienne. I’ll dispense with the cream and just make the sauce with thickened lamb broth, egg yolks, and the seasonings mentioned. Here’s my initial process – lamb in one pot, rabbit in another. “Hachy” is “hash” – so I’ll strip some meat from each and use the Allemande sauce with additional garlic and onions.

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The finished product 2 hours later:

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Feb 022016
 

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Today is Groundhog Day in the United States. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks. The custom derives from European celebrations of Candlemas which I describe in detail here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/candlemas/

At one time in southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges celebrated the holiday with fersommlinge, social events at which food was served, speeches were made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) were performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect was the only language spoken at the event, and those who spoke English paid a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl.

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Groundhog Day was adopted in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887, when Clymer H. Freas, the editor of the local paper Punxsutawney Spirit, began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official “Groundhog Day meteorologist.” Thus, to this day the largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, with Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhog Day, already a widely recognized and popular tradition in The United States, received widespread attention as a result of the 1993 film Groundhog Day (which my son and I watch religiously every year on 2nd February).

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The celebration began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has its origins in European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator, as opposed to a groundhog. It also bears similarities to the festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication): http://www.bookofdaystales.com/imbolc-and-brigid/ .

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The first documented U.S. reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, by storekeeper James Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

This reflects old European traditions, such as in this rhyme from England:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

From Scotland:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.

And from Germany:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

Several scenes in the movie Groundhog Day take place in a diner, the Tip Top Café. Here’s one scene in which blueberry waffles are featured.

I used to make these when I lived in New York State and had a waffle maker. They make a hearty breakfast for a cold early February morning.

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Blueberry Waffles

Waffles:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1⅔ cups milk
3 eggs, separated
¼ cup butter, melted
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Sauce:

1½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup orange juice
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cornstarch

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, egg yolks and butter and stir them into dry ingredient gently. Don’t beat too much. Fold in the blueberries.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold them into the batter.

Cook the batter in portions in a preheated waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For the sauce, combine the blueberries, ¼ cup orange juice and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Combine the cornstarch and remaining orange juice until smooth and then gradually stir it into the berry mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Serve the waffles with warm syrup, fresh blueberries, and whipped cream.