Oct 222016
 

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In the Russian Orthodox tradition today is the Saturday of Souls (or Soul Saturday), the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Άγιος Δημήτριος της Θεσσαλονίκης),a Christian martyr of the early 4th century. Within the Orthodox tradition in general there are several days that can be marked as Soul Saturday. Saturday is chosen because it was a Saturday when Jesus lay in the tomb after the crucifixion on Friday and before the resurrection on Sunday. Usually Soul Saturdays occur in Lent, but the Russian Orthodox one falls on the Saturday before 26th of October. Soul Saturday is especially marked as a day of prayer for the dead.

The earliest written accounts of the life of Demetrius were compiled in the 9th century, although there are earlier images of him along with the 7th century Miracles of Saint Demetrius collection. According to these early accounts, Demetrius was born to pious Christian parents in Thessaloniki in Illyricum in 270. The biographies say that Demetrius was born into a senatorial family and was run through with spears in around 306 in Thessaloniki, during the Christian persecutions of Diocletian and Galerian.

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After the growth of his veneration as saint, the city of Thessaloniki suffered repeated attacks and sieges from the Slavic peoples who moved into the Balkans, and Demetrius was credited with many miraculous interventions to defend the city. Hence later traditions about Demetrius regard him as a soldier in the Roman army, and he came to be regarded as an important military martyr making him extremely popular in the Middle Ages (in parallel with the more Western Saint George).

Originally in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Saturday before the Feast of St. Demetrius was a memorial day commemorating the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), under the leadership of St. Demetrius of the Don, and came to be known as Demetrius Saturday. Now it is a more general commemoration for all departed souls.

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St. Demetrius was initially depicted in icons and mosaics as a young man in patterned robes with the distinctive tablion of the senatorial class across his chest. Miraculous military interventions were attributed to him during several attacks on Thessaloniki, and he gradually became thought of as a soldier although there is no historical evidence for this. An ivory from Constantinople of the late 10th century shows him as an infantry soldier, but an icon of the late 11th century in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai shows him as before, still a civilian.

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Another Sinai icon, of the Crusader period and painted by a French artist working in the Holy Land in the second half of the 12th century, shows what then became the most common depiction. Demetrius, bearded, rather older, and on a dark horse, rides together with St George, unbearded and on a white horse. Both are dressed as cavalrymen. Also, while St. George is often shown spearing a dragon, St. Demetrius is depicted spearing the gladiator Lyaeos, who according to legend was responsible for killing many Christians. Lyaeos is commonly depicted below Demetrius and lying supine, having already been defeated. Lyaeos is traditionally drawn much smaller than Demetrius. In traditional hagiography, Demetrius did not directly kill Lyaeos, but rather through his prayers the gladiator was defeated by Demetrius’ disciple, Nestor.

A modern Greek iconographic convention depicts Demetrius with the Great White Tower in the background. The anachronistic White Tower acts as a symbolic depiction of the city of Thessaloniki, despite having been built in the 16th century, centuries after his life, and the exact architecture of the older tower that stood at the same site in earlier times is unknown.

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According to hagiographic legend, as retold by Dimitry of Rostov in particular, Demetrius appeared in 1207 in the camp of Kaloyan of Bulgaria, piercing the pagan king with a lance and so killing him. This scene, known as Чудо о погибели царя Калояна (“the miracle of the destruction of tsar Kaloyan”) became a popular element in the iconography of Saint Demetrius. He is shown on horseback piercing the king with his spear, paralleling the icononography (and often shown alongside) of Saint George and the Dragon.

I’m not really all that comfortable with saints as battle heroes. Slaying pagans and persecutors of Christians does not gibe too well with the Sermon on the Mount, cornerstone of Christian belief in my worldview. It is understandable in the context of the war-torn Middle Ages, but for me is a perversion of Christian belief that has continued to the present day. I can understand calling on the saints to protect the faithful during times of attack; turning that around into a battle cry to be the attackers of pagans destroys the Christian message. I’m not confident that “Love Your Enemies” is a message that will ever fully penetrate.

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In the Russian Orthodox tradition it is usual to make dishes of boiled wheat grains and offer them in church on Soul Saturday before eating them communally or as a family. I’ll probably give a recipe for wheat porridge at some point, but it’s not my favorite, even when cooked with milk and sweetened with sugar or honey. Instead I’ll turn to the cuisine of Thessaloniki. Because Thessaloniki  remained under Ottoman rule for about 100 years more than southern Greece, it has retained a lot of its Eastern character, including its culinary tastes. When you get away from the nonsense of ethnic rivalry you will see that traditional Turkish and Greek dishes have a lot in common. Thessaloniki’s Ladadika borough is a haven for foodies with most tavernas serving traditional meze which has both Greek and Turkish influences blended.

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Generically meze (Turkish: meze; Greek: μεζές) is a selection of small dishes to accompany drinks which can also be used as an appetizer course. The dishes can be just about anything under the sun from hummus, falafel, and babaghanoush to ground or skewered lamb, beef stew, and marinated pork. Furthermore, meze can be rich and varied, or extremely simple. For Soul Saturday I think a simple, but delicious meze dish is in order. One that I find satisfying as a snack or appetizer is pictured here. It is common in Greek cuisine.

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Serve a block of feta cheese drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with oregano along with kalamata olives accompanied with crusty bread. If you eat the cheese, olives, and bread together you have a somewhat astringent but tasty blend of flavors. Good for the soul as you reflect on the departed.

Jul 262016
 

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Today is the birthday (1856) of George Bernard Shaw, who preferred simply Bernard Shaw but is often referred to now as Shaw or GBS. He was an Irish playwright, critic and polemicist whose influence on Western theatre, culture and politics has extended from the 1880s to the present day. He wrote more than sixty plays, including perennial favorites such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). Pygmalion was the basis for My Fair Lady, of course. Shaw was the leading dramatist of his generation, and is the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize in Literature, and an Oscar.

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Shaw was born in Dublin, and moved to London in 1876, where he struggled to establish himself as a writer and novelist. By the mid-1880s he had become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joined the gradualist Fabian Society and became its most prominent pamphleteer. Shaw had been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. He sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. By the early 20th century his reputation as a dramatist was secured with a series of critical and popular successes that included Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

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Shaw’s views were, let us say, controversial. On the more mundane side, he wanted a reform of the system of writing English, including an end to the use of the apostrophe. One certainly can’t quarrel with his demonstrations that English spelling lacks logic, and is an impediment to literacy. He promoted eugenics, and opposed vaccination and organized religion. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable, and castigated British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. By the late 1920s he spoke favorably of dictatorships on the right and left, expressing admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he was largely a recluse, but continued to write prolifically.  He refused all state honors including the Order of Merit in 1946.

I don’t believe that there is any need to ramble on about Shaw’s life nor his beliefs. I’m not particularly keen on his plays, but I do like In Good King Charles’s Golden Days, because it’s his opportunity to explore key themes of the Enlightenment period. It’s a discussion play in which the issues of nature, power, and leadership are debated between King Charles II (‘Mr Rowley’), Isaac Newton, George Fox and the artist Godfrey Kneller, with interventions by three of the king’s mistresses (Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland; Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth; and Nell Gwynn) as well as his queen, Catherine of Braganza.

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This little exchange at the beginning gives the flavor:

MRS BASHAM.  And you have been sitting out there forgetting everything else since breakfast.  However, since you have one of your calculating fits on I wonder would you mind doing a little sum for me to check the washing bill.  How much is three times seven?

NEWTON.  Three times seven?  Oh, that is quite easy.

MRS BASHAM.  I suppose it is to you, sir; but it beats me.  At school I got as far as addition and subtraction; but I never could do multiplication or division.

NEWTON.  Why, neither could I: I was too lazy.  But they are quite unnecessary: addition and subtraction are quite sufficient.  You add the logarithms of the numbers; and the antilogarithm of the sum of the two is the answer.  Let me see: three times seven?  The logarithm of three must be decimal four seven seven or thereabouts.The logarithm of seven is, say, decimal eight four five.  That makes one decimal three two two, doesnt it?  What’s the antilogarithm of one decimal three two two?  Well, it must be less than twentytwo and more than twenty.  You will be safe if you put it down as–

Sally returns.

SALLY.  Please, maam, Jack says it’s twentyone.

NEWTON.  Extraordinary!  Here was I blundering over this simple problem for a whole minute; and this uneducated fish hawker solves it in a flash!  He is a better mathematician than I.

Let me add a few more quotes from Shaw’s other works that I like:

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.

The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty-stricken man makes the same mistake about the rich man.

A broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for a man in London if he has a comfortable income.

Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.

Human beings are the only animals of which I am thoroughly and cravenly afraid.

Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research.

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.

The last quote is often repeated. Shaw was well known for his vegetarianism, inspired by his desire to avoid harm to animals. In his day his avoidance of meat was heavily remarked upon because it was so unusual. I had no luck discovering what, if any, was Shaw’s favorite dish, but I figured an Irish vegetarian dish would be suitable.

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In digging I found this 8th century Irish poem, “The Hermit’s Song” or “Marbán to Guaire” all about wild foods in Ireland:

To what meals the woods invite me
All about!
There are water, herbs and cresses,
Salmon, trout.
A clutch of eggs, sweet mast and honey
Are my meat,
Heathberries and whortleberries for a sweet.
All that one could ask for comfort
Round me grows,
There are hips and haws and strawberries,
Nuts and sloes.
And when summer spreads its mantle
What a sight!
Marjoram and leeks and pignuts,
Juicy, bright.

Pignuts are mentioned at the tail end, so let’s begin there. The pignut, Conopodium majus is a small perennial herb, whose underground part resembles a chestnut and is sometimes eaten as a wild or cultivated root vegetable. The plant has many English names (many of them shared with Bunium bulbocastanum, a related plant with similar appearance and uses) including kippernut, cipernut, arnut, jarnut, hawknut, earth chestnut, groundnut, and earthnut. From its popularity with pigs come the names pignut, hognut, and more indirectly Saint Anthony’s nut, for Anthony the Great or Anthony of Padua, both patron saints of swineherds. The plant is common through much of Europe and parts of North Africa. It grows in woods and fields, and is an indicator of long-established grassland.

Pignuts are favorites of wild food foragers. You can find a good description here:

https://cumbriafoodie.com/2011/06/04/pignuts-a-little-hidden-gem-for-the-forager/

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Pignuts remind me a little of Jerusalem artichokes although they are smaller and the taste is rather different. Because I love leeks so much and because marjoram, leeks, and pignuts are mentioned in the same line in the poem, why not make a soup of all three. I’d normally use chicken stock as the base but because I want to be vegetarian here I’ll use vegetable stock. Quantities are not important as long as you have equal portions of pignuts and leeks. Jerusalem artichokes or salsify will work in place of pignuts, but will have to be cut into chunks.

© Pignut and Leek Soup

Ingredients

½ kg pignuts, washed and peeled
½ kg leeks, washed and sliced thickly
vegetable stock
fresh marjoram, finely shopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Place the pignuts in a heavy pot and cover with stock. Season to taste with marjoram, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add the leeks and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Add more stock if needed, but don’t make the soup too thin. Cooking times really depend on how you like your vegetables. I like mine al dente. Add more fresh marjoram at the very end, and serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

Nov 222015
 

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Today is the birthday (1819) of Mary Ann Evans commonly known by her pen name, George Eliot. She was an English novelist, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances. She also wished to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.

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As much as anything else I want to take note of her life as one seemingly perpetually peppered with sexism, especially because of her looks. According to Henry James, “She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone ‘qui n’en finissent pas’… Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.” Hmmmm . . . “horse-faced bluestocking” eh? I don’t think Victorian men were treated in quite the same way (though I am ready to be proven wrong).

Eliot was born near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, a few miles north of Coventry. She was the second child of Robert Evans (1773–1849) and Christiana Evans (née Pearson, 1788–1836), the daughter of a local mill-owner. Her given name, Mary Ann, was sometimes shortened to Marian. Her father was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in Warwickshire, and Eliot was born on the estate at South Farm. In early 1820 the family moved to a house named Griff, between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Because she was not considered physically beautiful, and thus not thought to have much chance of marriage, and because of her intelligence, her father invested in an education not often afforded women in those days. From ages five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham’s school in Attleborough, from ages nine to thirteen at Mrs. Wallington’s school in Nuneaton, and from ages thirteen to sixteen at Miss Franklin’s school in Coventry. At Mrs. Wallington’s school, she was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis—to whom her earliest surviving letters are addressed.

After age sixteen, Eliot had little formal education. Thanks to her father’s role on the estate, she was allowed access to the library of Arbury Hall, which greatly aided her self-education and breadth of learning. Her classical education left its mark; Christopher Stray has observed that “George Eliot’s novels draw heavily on Greek literature (only one of her books can be printed correctly without the use of a Greek typeface), and her themes are often influenced by Greek tragedy”. Her frequent visits to the estate also allowed her to contrast the wealth in which the local landowner lived with the lives of the often much poorer people on the estate, and different lives lived in parallel would reappear in many of her works. The other early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a low church Anglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters.

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In 1836 her mother died and Eliot (then 16) returned home to act as housekeeper, but she continued correspondence with her tutor Maria Lewis. When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, so Evans and her father moved to Foleshill near Coventry. The closeness to Coventry society brought new influences, most notably those of Charles and Cara Bray. Charles Bray had become rich as a ribbon manufacturer and had used his wealth in the building of schools and in other philanthropic causes. Eliot, who had been struggling with religious doubts for some time, became intimate friends with the progressive, free-thinking Brays, whose “Rosehill” home was a haven for people who held and debated radical views. At the Brays’ house she met, among others, Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through this society Eliot was introduced to more liberal theologies and to writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, who cast doubt on the literal truth of Biblical stories. In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss’s The Life of Jesus (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by another member of the “Rosehill Circle”. As a product of their friendship, Bray published some of Eliot’s earliest writing, such as reviews, in his newspaper the Coventry Herald and Observer.

When Eliot began to question her religious faith, her father threatened to throw her out of the house, but his threat was not carried out. Instead, she respectfully attended church and continued to keep house for him until his death in 1849, when she was 30. Five days after her father’s funeral, she traveled to Switzerland with the Brays. She decided to stay on in Geneva alone, living first on the lake at Plongeon (near the present-day United Nations buildings) and then on the second floor of a house owned by her friends François and Juliet d’Albert Durade on the rue de Chanoines (now the rue de la Pelisserie). She commented happily that, “one feels in a downy nest high up in a good old tree”.

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On her return to England the following year (1850), she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer, and she began referring to herself as Marian Evans. She stayed at the house of John Chapman, the radical publisher whom she had met earlier at Rosehill and who had published her Strauss translation. Chapman had recently purchased the campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and Eliot became its assistant editor in 1851. Although Chapman was officially the editor, it was Eliot who did most of the work of producing the journal, contributing many essays and reviews beginning with the January 1852 issue and continuing until the end of her employment at the Review in the first half of 1854. Women writers were common at the time, but Evans’s role as the female editor of a literary magazine was quite unusual.

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The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes (1817–78) met Eliot in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was already married to Agnes Jervis. They had an open marriage, and in addition to the three children they had together, Agnes also had four children by Thornton Leigh Hunt. Because Lewes allowed himself to be falsely named as the father on the birth certificates of Jervis’s illegitimate children, he was considered to be complicit in adultery, and therefore he was not legally able to divorce her. In July 1854, Lewes and Eliot travelled to Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of research. Before going to Germany, Evans continued her theological work with a translation of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, and while abroad she wrote essays and worked on her translation of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, which she completed in 1856, but which was not published in her lifetime.

The trip to Germany also served as a honeymoon as they now considered themselves married, with Eliot calling herself Marian Evans Lewes, and referring to Lewes as her husband. It was not unusual for men and women in Victorian society to have affairs; Charles Bray, John Chapman, Friedrich Engels, and Wilkie Collins all had extra-marital relationships, though they were much more discreet than Lewes and Eliot were. It was this lack of discretion and their public admission of the relationship which created accusations of polygamy and earned them the moral disapproval of English society .

While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Eliot resolved to become a novelist, and she set out a manifesto for herself in one of her last essays for the Review, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” (1856). The essay criticized the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction by women. In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, and it became clear in her subsequent fiction that she placed an emphasis on realistic storytelling. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, the one for which she would become known: George Eliot. This pen-name was said by some to be an homage to George Lewes.

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In 1857, when she was 37, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton”, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood’s Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, it was well received (it was published in book form early in 1858). Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede; it was an instant success, but it prompted intense interest in who this new author might be. Scenes of Clerical Life was widely believed to have been written by a country parson or perhaps the wife of a parson. With the release of the incredibly popular Adam Bede, speculation increased, and there was even a pretender to the authorship, one Joseph Liggins. In the end, the real George Eliot stepped forward: Marian Evans Lewes admitted she was the author. The revelations about Eliot’s private life surprised and shocked many of her admiring readers, but this did not affect her popularity as a novelist. Eliot’s relationship with Lewes afforded her the encouragement and stability she needed to write fiction, and to ease her self-doubt, but it would be some time before they were accepted into polite society. Acceptance was finally confirmed in 1877 when they were introduced to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. The queen herself was an avid reader of all of George Eliot’s novels and was so impressed with Adam Bede that she commissioned the artist Edward Henry Corbould to paint scenes from the book.

After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. Within a year of completing Adam Bede, she finished The Mill on the Floss, dedicating the manuscript: “To my beloved husband, George Henry Lewes, I give this MS. of my third book, written in the sixth year of our life together, at Holly Lodge, South Field, Wandsworth, and finished 21 March 1860.”

Her last novel was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, after which she and Lewes moved to Witley, Surrey. By this time Lewes’s health was failing, and he died two years later, on 30 November 1878. Eliot spent the next two years editing Lewes’s final work, Life and Mind, for publication, and she found solace and companionship with John Walter Cross, a Scottish commission agent whose mother had recently died.

On 16 May 1880 Eliot courted controversy once more by marrying John Cross, a man twenty years her junior, and again changing her name, this time to Mary Anne Cross. The legal marriage at least pleased her brother Isaac, who had broken off relations with her when she had begun to live with Lewes, but now sent congratulations. While the couple was honeymooning in Venice, Cross, in a fit of depression, jumped from the hotel balcony into the Grand Canal. He survived, and the newlyweds returned to England. They moved to a new house in Chelsea, but Eliot fell ill with a throat infection. This, coupled with the kidney disease she had been afflicted with for several years, led to her death on 22 December 1880 at the age of 61.

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I was a frequent visitor to Nuneaton when I lived for a while in Royal Leamington Spa. There were a number of traditional Warwickshire dishes to be had them, as I am sure there still are with the renaissance of regional cooking in Britain. Pork pies were once a celebrated specialty of the region, and from what I can tell, still are although I have not visited in decades. This pie is from Chadwick’s of Nuneaton:

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Here’s Mrs Beeton’s recipe.

PORK PIES (Warwickshire Recipe).

  1. INGREDIENTS.—For the crust, 5 lbs. of lard to 14 lbs. of flour, milk, and water. For filling the pies, to every 3 lbs. of meat allow 1 oz. of salt, 2-1/4 oz. of pepper, a small quantity of cayenne, 1 pint of water.

Mode.—Rub into the flour a portion of the lard; the remainder put with sufficient milk and water to mix the crust, and boil this gently for 1/4 hour. Pour it boiling on the flour, and knead and beat it till perfectly smooth. Now raise the crust in either a round or oval form, cut up the pork into pieces the size of a nut, season it in the above proportion, and press it compactly into the pie, in alternate layers of fat and lean, and pour in a small quantity of water; lay on the lid, cut the edges smoothly round, and pinch them together. Bake in a brick oven, which should be slow, as the meat is very solid. Very frequently, the inexperienced cook finds much difficulty in raising the crust. She should bear in mind that it must not be allowed to get cold, or it will fall immediately: to prevent this, the operation should be performed as near the fire as possible. As considerable dexterity and expertness are necessary to raise the crust with the hand only, a glass bottle or small jar may be placed in the middle of the paste, and the crust moulded on this; but be particular that it is kept warm the whole time.

Sufficient.—The proportions for 1 pie are 1 lb. of flour and 3 lbs. of meat.

Seasonable from September to March.