Jul 052018
 

Today is Tynwald Day (Manx: Laa Tinvaal) the National Day of the Isle of Man, an independent nation within the British Isles. On this day, the Island’s legislature, Tynwald, meets at St John’s, instead of its usual meeting place in Douglas. The session is held partly in the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist and partly in the open air on the adjacent Tynwald Hill (a small artificial mound). The meeting, the first recorded instance of which dates to 1417, is known as Midsummer Court. It is attended by members of the two branches of Tynwald: the House of Keys, and the Legislative Council. The Lieutenant Governor, the representative of the Lord of Mann (currently queen Elizabeth), presides except on the occasions when the Lord of Mann or another member of the British Royal Family is present. All bills that have received Royal Assent are promulgated on Tynwald Day; any Act of Tynwald which is not so promulgated within 18 months of passage ceases to have effect. Other proceedings include the presentation of petitions and the swearing in of certain public officials.

Since the first recorded Tynwald Day in 1417, Tynwald Day had traditionally been held on 24th June, which is the feast day of St John the Baptist and also Midsummer’s Day. In 1753, the Isle of Man legislated to replace the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian Calendar after Great Britain had done so in the previous year: making a difference of 11 days. But the legislation retained the Julian Calendar for the purpose of determining Tynwald Day: it provided that “Midsummer Tynwald Court shall be holden and kept … upon or according to the same natural Days upon or according to which the same should have been so kept or holden … in case this Act had never been made.” Hence Tynwald Day occurred on 24th June in the Julian Calendar, but on 5th July according to the Gregorian Calendar. It was not subsequently moved back to 7 July, even though the Gregorian Calendar is now 13 days ahead of the Julian Calendar because the Gregorian Calendar had no leap day in 1800 or 1900. If Tynwald Day occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, it is normally commemorated on the next Monday, as happened in 2008 and 2009.

Midsummer Courts were sometimes presided over personally by the Lords of Mann, but more often by his/her representatives, as the Lords of Mann were often British aristocrats or monarchs who were not resident in the island. After the Duke of Atholl presided in 1736, over two centuries passed before a Lord of Mann participated in Tynwald Day ceremonies. George VI presided in 1946; his successor Elizabeth II presided in 1979 (the millennial anniversary of Tynwald’s establishment) and again in 2003. Occasionally another member of the Royal Family may preside, as HRH Prince Edward did in 1986, and HRH The Prince of Wales did in 2000.

The Lieutenant Governor is preceded by the Sword-Bearer, who wears a scarlet uniform and bears the Sword of State. The Sword of State probably dates from the 15th century, and may have been made for Sir John Stanley. The Sword, which is blunt for the sake of safety, displays the Manx triskelion (the traditional “three legs” symbol which also appears on the Manx flag). Members of the House of Keys and of the Legislative Council are also in attendance. The Speaker of the House of Keys wears a wig and black robes with gold decorations. The President of Tynwald wears a wig and blue robes with silver decorations. The President’s robes also display the triskelion. The Isle of Man’s highest judicial officers, the Deemsters, participate in the ceremony, wearing scarlet robes and long wigs. There are currently three Deemsters, including the First and Second Deemster. Their office is of great antiquity, as is reflected by the curious phraseology of their ancient oath, during which they promise to “execute the laws of this isle justly … betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring’s backbone doth lie in the midst of the fish.”

Some individuals are invited to attend as Guests of Honour. Guests of Honour include representatives of the United Kingdom and of other nations, usually including the Republic of Ireland and some Scandinavian countries. In recent years, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have sent separate representatives, in addition to those for the United Kingdom. Notable guests in recent years have included: Lord Waddington (1998), The Lord Williams of Mostyn (1999), Dr Rory O’Hanlon (1999/2005), Senator Liam T. Cosgrave (2002), HM The King of Norway (2002), The Lord Steel of Aikwood (2002), The Rt Hon. Jack McConnell and the British Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, Baron Falconer of Thoroton (2003). Other participants include clergymen, leaders of local governments and several other officials, including all the State Officials of the Isle of Man. All participants wear bollan bane, otherwise known as mugwort. Detachments and bands from the Constabulary and the military also take part in the ceremony, which is also attended by members of the general public.

Before Tynwald sits, the individual presiding inspects the Guard of Honour and lays a wreath at the National War Memorial, which was inaugurated in 1923. A foreign head of state attending the ceremony may accompany the Lieutenant Governor, as HM The King of Norway did in 2002. At 11 o’clock, Tynwald convenes in the Chapel of St John the Baptist for a religious service. Thereafter, they proceed to the adjacent Tynwald Hill. The path is strewn with rushes; the tradition is (possibly) traceable to the Celtic custom of propitiating the sea god Manannan by offering bundles of rushes on Midsummer’s Eve. The path is lined with numerous flagpoles, which fly both the red national flag and the blue parliamentary flag.

The first procession includes clergymen and certain government officials. The second procession, known as the Tynwald Court Procession, follows; in order, it comprises the officers of the House of Keys, the members of the House of Keys, the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, the Speaker of the House of Keys, a messenger of the House of Keys, officers of the Legislative Council, members of the Legislative Council, the Attorney General, the Deemsters, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the President of Tynwald and a messenger of the Legislative Council. Thereafter, two guards, the Sword-bearer, the Presiding Officer and the Lieutenant Governor (if not presiding).

Dr John Clague described the procession as such in his 1911 book Cooinaghtyn Manninagh (Manx Reminiscences)

Er Laa Tin Vaal ta sleih cheet voish dy chooilley ard jeh Mannin dy chlashtyn ny slattyssyn focklit magh. Ta ny shenn tosheeyioarree livrey ny slattyn oc da’n Chiannoort, as ta’n chied vriw loo ny feallagh noa stiagh. Eisht ta dy chooilley hoshiagh-jioarey gliooney sheese roish yn Chiannoort, as goaill yn tlat echey veih laueyn yn Chiannoort. Ta toshiaghjioarey Glenfaba lhaih ny slattyssyn ayns Gaelg.

On Tynwald Day people come from every part of the Isle of Man to hear the laws pronounced. The six old coroners deliver their rods to the Governor, and the first Deemster swears the new coroners in. Then every coroner kneels down before the Governor, and takes his rod from the hands of the Governor. The coroner of Glenfaba reads the laws in Manx.

The main ceremonies of the day take place on Tynwald Hill, known in the Manx language as Cronk-y-Keeillown, or the Hill of the Church of John, in the village of St John’s. This mound is said to include soil from all 17 of the Island’s parishes. The mound, approximately 12 feet (3.7 meters) in height, includes four circular platforms, which are of successively decreasing size, thereby giving Tynwald Hill a somewhat conical shape. The ceremony of proclaiming laws on Tynwald Hill is traceable to the Norse practice of making public proclamations from mounds: Iceland, for example, once used the Lögberg (Law-Rock or Law-Hill) for the same purpose. The origins of the man-made Tynwald Hill are unclear, but it existed by the end of the 14th century. It was used in 1393 for the inauguration of Sir William le Scrope, and again in 1408 for the inauguration of Sir John Stanley, as Lords of Mann. Its first recorded use for the promulgation of laws dates to 24 June 1417, when Sir John Stanley presided. The Lieutenant Governor, together with the Sword-Bearer and the officers and members of the Legislative Council, occupy the highest level of the Hill; officers and members of the House of Keys occupy the next level. Other officials are accommodated on the lower levels and at the foot of the mound. A tent covers the top platform. The flag of the Isle of Man flies from the flagpole except when the British Sovereign presides, when the Royal Standard flies.

After the Royal Anthem is sung, the First Deemster and Clerk of the Rolls, upon the instruction of the Lieutenant Governor, directs the Coroner of Glenfaba to “fence the Court”. The coroner accomplishes the task by declaring, “I fence this Court of Tynwald in the name of our most gracious Sovereign Lady The Queen. I charge that no person do quarrel, brawl or make any disturbance and that all persons do answer to their names when called. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this audience to witness this Court is fenced. I charge this whole audience to bear witness this Court is now fenced.” Yn Lhaihder (the Reader) then repeats the same words in Manx.

After the Court is fenced, the coroners appointed for the coming year take the oath. The Coroners of the six sheadings ascend the Hill in order of precedence, commencing with the Coroner of Glenfaba, followed (in a clockwise direction around the Island) by the Coroner of Michael, the Coroner of Ayre, the Coroner of Garff, the Coroner of Middle and the Coroner of Rushen. The First Deemster administers the oath to the kneeling coroners: “By that book and by the holy contents thereof and by the wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in heaven above and in the earth beneath in six days and seven nights, you shall, without respect of favour or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, well and truly execute the office of coroner for each sheading to which you have been appointed for the ensuing year. So help you God.” The phrase “wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought … in six days and seven nights” alludes to the Book of Genesis. The Coroners then receive ceremonial staves from the Lieutenant Governor.

After the Coroners take the oath, the Lieutenant Governor states, “Learned deemsters, I exhort you to proclaim to the people in ancient form such laws as have been enacted during the past year and which have received the Royal Assent.” Each law is promulgated by the First Deemster in English and by the Second Deemster in Manx. The deemsters state the title, and a brief description of the effects, of each act. For example, on Tynwald Day in 2003, one Act was promulgated with the words “Transfer of Deemsters’ Functions Act 2003, which transfers certain functions of the deemsters to the Treasury.” If an Act of Tynwald is not promulgated within 18 months of receiving the Royal Assent, it ceases to remain valid.

Once the deemsters promulgate the laws, individuals may present petitions for the redress of grievances. Petitions are presented at the foot of Tynwald Hill to the Clerk of Tynwald, who conveys them to the Lieutenant Governor. The petitions are then referred to a committee of Tynwald. Thereafter, after the singing of the first verse of the National Anthem, the Deputy Chief Constable of the Isle of Man Constabulary calls the participants individually off the Hill and they proceed to the Chapel.

Tynwald then reconvenes in the Chapel. While Tynwald conducts substantive business in Douglas, it only participates in the captioning ceremony at St John’s. During the ceremony, the Lieutenant Governor, the President of Tynwald and the Speaker of the House of Keys use quills to sign certificates documenting the promulgation of the laws.

Once the captioning of the acts has concluded, the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Council withdraw, leaving members of the House of Keys for a session of their house. If there are any bills that have not completed all of their stages in the House of Keys, a member moves “That all Bills and other business before the House remaining unfinished at this date be suspended and continued at the same stage at the first sitting of the House in the next legislative year.” This pro forma motion is approved by a voice vote; the House of Keys then adjourns. Even if there remains no unfinished business before it, the House of Keys still meets, but no motion is made, and adjournment is immediate.

After Tynwald Day, Tynwald Court returns to Douglas for three further sittings, normally held on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday following Tynwald Day. If, however, Tynwald Day falls on a Monday, the sittings are not held until the following week. Following these sittings, Tynwald adjourns for the summer, not reconvening until October.

Traditionally, Tynwald Day was also marked by a fair and market; these customs still continue. In recent years, the Tynwald Settings Enhancements Sub-Committee has introduced several other forms of celebration. Since 2000, the week of Tynwald Day has been commemorated as Manx National Week. Concerts are held in the evening; at the conclusion, the Manx national anthem is played, and a fireworks display is staged.

The last native speaker of Manx died in 1974, but the language has never become fully extinct because of revival efforts to keep it alive. A small minority of the population of the Isle of Man is fluent in the language, and a larger minority has some ability to speak it. Tynwald Day is important for preserving the language. Because Manx has a long literary history, keeping the language alive is a lot simpler than other languages that are endangered and have little literary usage. There are, of course, plenty of recipes in Manx. The most distinctive, but arguably the blandest, is fatherless pie – a standard pie with sliced potatoes and milk for a filling. Here’s the Manx recipe (followed by a translation):

CLAARE DYN JISHIG.

 (Dy ve eeit lesh eeayst er Jeheiney-chaist.)

     2 punt dy phuddasyn.

    6 unnsyn dy eeym.

    1 cappan dy vainney.

    1 cappan dy ushtey.

    Pibbyr as sollan.

    Teayst dy arran-giare.

Giar ny puddasyn myn. Cur eeym er claare as lhieen eh lesh puddasyn as eeym ny-vud. Cur y bainney as ushtey er, coodee harrish lesh eayst dy arran-giare, as aarlee ayns oghe braew. 

FATHERLESS PIE.

 (To be eaten with boiled fish on Good Friday.)

     2 lbs. potatoes.

    6 oz. butter.

    1 cup milk.

    1 cup water.

    pepper and salt.

    short pastry.

Cut the potatoes into small thin pieces, butter a pie dish, fill with layers of potatoes, and pieces of butter, until all are used, adding a little pepper and salt to each layer. Pour over the milk and water, put an ordinary pie crust on top and bake in a moderate oven.

Given that this is a Lenten dish, it is not especially suitable for a festive occasion, but would work as a side dish. I also have a recipe for Manx haggis which I like, but may not appeal to many. Furthermore, the ingredients are hard to get nowadays. There is this Manx recipe for gingerbread which is very good. It makes a really moist cake which should be eaten quickly (straight out of the oven is good). Don’t worry about the fact that the raw dough is quite runny, but make sure you check the gingerbread with a toothpick after an hour to make sure it is cooked through. A toothpick will not come out completely clean, but it should not be wet.

ARRAN JINSHAR.

     1 punt dy flooyr.

    3 unnsyn dy smarrey muck.

    4 unnsyn dy shugyr dhone.

    1 naggin dy vainney millish.

    ½ phunt dy soolagh-shugyr.

    2 lane-spein-tey dy jinshar beihllt.

    1 lane-spein-tey dy yastee-hollan.

    1 lane-spein-tey dy phoodyr fuinney.

    1 lane-pein-tey dy rass-carvay (myr Silliu)

    1 ny 2 dy oohyn.

    Sollan.

Jean mastey cooidjagh ny stoohyn chirrym lheie yn smarrey as yn soolagh-shugyr ayns pash. Jean mastey yn ooh dy-mie as jean mastey ad ooilley cooidjagh. Deayrt ad ooilley ayns claare-stainney mooar. Lhig daue ve fuinnt ayns oghe lane-vie cheh son mysh oor

GINGERBREAD.

    1 lb. flour.

    3 oz. suet, dripping, or lard.

    4 oz. brown sugar.

    1 gill milk.

    ½ lb. golden syrup.

    2 tsp ground ginger.

    1 tsp carbonate soda.

    1 tsp baking powder.

    1 tsp caraway seed (if liked)

    1 or 2 eggs.

    salt.

Mix the dry ingredients together, melt the dripping and syrup in a pan. Beat the eggs well. Mix all well together. Pour the mixture into a large dripping pan. Bake in a moderate oven for one hour.  

 

 

 

Apr 152016
 

rp1

On this date in 1935 a number of nations signed The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments, commonly called the Roerich Pact. The most important component of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity. The pact was the brainchild of Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. This date is also now celebrated in various nations as the Universal Day of Culture, the World League of Culture, and the World Day of Culture.  The aims of the celebration are all the same, namely, to emphasize the value of diverse cultures, and to protect them against the ravages of war.

rp3

Nicholas Roerich was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg. His parents encouraged him to study law, but seeing their son’s interest in painting, they allowed him to study both. In 1900, Roerich went to Paris to take lessons from Fernand Cormon, teacher of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he married Helena Shaposhnikova, who later developed the Agni Yoga philosophy.  Ultimately Roerich became a successful painter; one of his paintings was purchased by Russian Tsar Nicolas II. Roerich also worked as stage and costume designer for several operas and ballets by Maurice Maeterlinck and Igor Stravinsky, premiered in St. Petersburg.

Roerich formulated the idea of protecting cultural objects from the devastation caused by war and other modernist forces in 1899. During his excavations at Saint-Petersburg province, he began to point to necessity of preserving ancient artifacts, because they help preserve long dead worldviews.

In 1903, Roerich together with his wife, toured 40 ancient Russian cities, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Smolensk, Vilna (Lithuanian city, briefly part of Russian Empire), Izborsk, Pskov. In 1904 he visited Uglich, Kalyazin, Kashin, Tver. During this travel Roerich created a series of architectural studies – around 90 paintings of the sites he visited. Later many Russian churches were destroyed by revolutionary forces and these paintings remain the only record of them.

rp4

After his travels Roerich gave a report to the Emperor’s Russian Archeologist Society about the sad state of historical monuments and the need to take prompt action to protect them. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905) Roerich again emphasized the need for a special to protect institutions and cultural monuments from war.

In 1914, Roerich appealed to the high command of the Russian army, as well as the governments of the USA and France, with the idea of formulating an international agreement aimed at the protection of cultural values during armed conflicts. He created a poster “Enemy of Mankind” denouncing the barbaric destruction of cultural monuments, and the image “Glow” as a protest against World War I.

In 1929, Roerich, in cooperation with G.G. Shklyaver, a doctor of international law and political sciences from Paris University prepared a draft resolution of an international pact for the protection of cultures. The scheme was to be a cultural analog of the Red Cross’s medical neutrality. Simultaneously Roerich proposed a distinctive sign to identify the objects that are in need of protection, which is now called the Banner of Peace. It consists of a white background with a red circle and three red circles inscribed in it. This banner has been displayed in prominent places – including the North and South Poles, and the Mir space station.

rp6 rp7

In 1930 the text of a draft agreement accompanied with Roerich’s appeal to governments and peoples of all countries was published in newspapers and distributed to governmental, scientific, artistic and educational institutions around the world. As a result, committees supporting the Pact were established in many countries. The draft pact was approved by Committee for Museum affairs at League of Nations and also by the Committee of the Pan-American Union. Ultimately, the Pact was signed by 21 states in the Americas and was ratified by 10 of them.

rp5

A few years after the Second World War, the Roerich Pact played an important role in forming international law standards and public activity in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the 4th session of general UNESCO conference, a decision was accepted to begin the work of international law regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

Needless to say, the ideals far outstrip the reality. The Pact was in effect when Allied and Axis powers bombed countless historic sites around the world. Money and power have a way of trumping cultural interests. One of the tenets of the Pact is that nations should strive to spend more on cultural institutions – art, music, theater etc – than on weaponry. Rotsa ruck with that !!

In October 2003, The Roerich pact was extended to include the protection of non-material cultural heritage, which was accepted by the 32nd session of the General U.N. Conference on Education, Science and Culture.  The UNESCO World Heritage List is well known to most, but there is also another list, the Intangible Cultural Heritage list intended to safeguard non-tangible items such as music and dance. In this list there is a growing number of entries related to food and food culture. On the list are French and Mexican cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. These are rather too general, I would say, to qualify as my recipe of the day, but you can make coq au vin, tacos, or pasta primavera if you wish.  However, licitars (Croatian gingerbread hearts) are also on the list. I recommend going to Zagreb if you want to try them, but you can make a simulacrum if you want to. You’ll find a serviceable recipe here:

http://www.chasingthedonkey.com/croatian-cooking-licitar-recipe/

However, you won’t produce anything like the real thing. Licitars are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough that are part of Croatia’s cultural heritage and a traditional symbol of Zagreb. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St. Valentine’s Day. At Christmas time, the city of Zagreb and the Christmas tree in the main square in particular are festooned with thousands of licitar hearts.

rp2

The tradition of making and giving Licitars goes back to the 16th century. Licitar makers, known as Medičari, were highly regarded in society, and their Licitars very much sought after – much more sentimental than giving a bouquet of roses, for example. Even today the tradition is kept alive by a select few who shroud the art in family secrecy, and claim their methods of production have scarcely changed. One licitar still takes over a month to make.

Licitars became famous due to their being sold at the Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica (in Zagorje near Zagreb) where pilgrims journeyed for the Assumption or St Margaret’s Day. Although not a religious symbol, licitars were often bought by pilgrims to take home as a reminder of their long and sometimes arduous journey to Zagorje. Licitars’ simple shape and attractive color and decorations were a common souvenir to show family and friends when they returned.

Licitars are also known in neighboring Slovenia. The oldest licitar workshops can be found in Slovenj Gradec (established in 1757) and in Radovljica (established in 1766). Both workshops are still producing licitar today and the one in Radovljica is open to tourists.

Licitars are made using traditional ingredients and methods. Their ingredients are simple (honey, flour, eggs, water and natural colors) but their preparation is long. The dough matures for a few days, then is shaped and baked and left for two weeks to dry. Coloring is the next step after which they are left to dry again for two weeks. Once dry, the licitars are finally decorated and again left to dry for a week.

Traditionally Licitars are 100% handmade, decorated with a swirling outline, small flowers and a small mirror. Being made of honey dough and natural products licitars are edible, but few people actually eat them. Licitars are often referred to as “gingerbread,” though they do not actually contain ginger.

 

Jan 132016
 

xmas3

Today is Tjugondag jul (“Twentieth Day Yule”), or Tjugondag Knut (“Twentieth Day Knut”), or Knutomasso, in English, Saint Knut’s Day, (Finnish: nuutinpäivä), a traditional festival celebrated in Sweden and Finland on 13 January. It is not celebrated in Denmark despite being named for the Danish prince Canute Lavard, and later also associated with his uncle, Canute the Saint, the patron saint of Denmark. Christmas trees are taken down on Tjugondag jul, and the candies and cookies that decorated the tree are eaten. In Sweden, the feast held during this event is called a Christmas tree plundering (Julgransplundring). In other words, in Sweden and Finland Christmas is really, really, really over.

xmas4

Canute Lavard (Knut Levard in Swedish) was a Danish duke who was assassinated by his cousin and rival Magnus Nilsson on 7 January 1131 so he could usurp the Danish throne. In the aftermath of his death there was a civil war, which led to Knut being later declared a saint, and 7 January became Knut’s Day, a name day. As his name day roughly coincided with Epiphany (the “thirteenth day of Christmas”), Knut’s Day and Epiphany were more or less conflated. In 1680, Knut’s Day was moved to 13 January and became known as tjugondag Knut or tjugondedag jul (the “twentieth day of Knut/Christmas”).

xmas1

On Nuutinpäivä in Finland, there has been a tradition somewhat analogous to modern Santa Claus, where young men dressed as a goat (Finnish: Nuuttipukki) would visit houses. Usually the costume was an inverted fur jacket, a leather or birch bark mask, and horns. Unlike Santa Claus, Nuuttipukki was a scary character (like Krampus http://www.bookofdaystales.com/krampus/ ). The men dressed as Nuuttipukki wandered from house to house, came in, and typically demanded food from the household and especially leftover alcoholic beverages. In Finland the Nuuttipukki tradition is still alive in Satakunta, Southwest Finland and Ostrobothnia. However, nowadays the character is usually played by children and is rather mild and playful.

A proverb from Noormarkku says: Hyvä Tuomas joulun tua, paha Knuuti poijes viä or “Good [St.] Thomas brings the Christmas, evil Knut takes [it] away.”

Christmas tree plundering (Swedish: Julgransplundring) is a tradition in Sweden on St. Knut’s Day, marking the end of the Christmas and holiday season. It is also known as “Dancing out Christmas” (Dansa ut julen) or “Throw out the Tree” (Kasta ut granen). It is mentioned in the Old Farmer’s Almanac that “King Knut asked them for help to drive out Christmas”. In traditional Swedish agrarian society, children would run from farm to farm to “call out Christmas” (ropa ut julen), that is call out that Christmas had ended and beg for food and drink.

xmas11

The present day tradition has changed very little since the 1870s. During the 20th century, Christmas tree plundering became mainly associated with children and candy. The observance of the feast peaked during the period 1950–70. In private homes, there is often a party primarily for children. The Christmas decorations are then put aside. Such parties are also common in schools, kindergartens, churches and other places. In many towns, the illumination of the public Christmas tree is switched off, accompanied by an outdoor Christmas tree plundering for the community. In some areas the feast is known as Julgransskakning (“Shaking the Christmas tree”).

xmas12

Party activities involve singing and dancing around the Christmas tree, “looting” the tree of ornamental candy and apples, smashing the gingerbread house into pieces and eating it, opening Christmas crackers that have been used as decorations on the tree, lotteries, creating a fiskdamm (“fishing pond”) where children “fish” for toys and candy, or a treasure hunt. The songs and dances are essentially the same as those performed at Christmas and Midsummer with some additions of songs about the end of Christmas such as Raska fötter springa tripp, tripp, tripp:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbN3i0Bh2Vs

xmas10

During the 20th century, Christmas trees were literally thrown out of the window or from the balcony, on to the street once they had been “plundered” and stripped of all ornaments. Since the beginning of the 21st century, areas for dumping the trees are designated by local authorities but even by 2015, spontaneous and illegal dumping grounds were still a problem. Some customs die hard.

I like the idea of smashing the Christmas gingerbread house and eating it. Getting rid of my gingerbread house was always tough. I put a great deal of effort into it 30 years ago. It started off reasonably simply using a commercial template with a basic gingerbread recipe. But in the process my wife got so carried away with the decorating that we did not want to eat it or discard it. So we kept it until the next Christmas . . . then the next. But it was getting tattered by then, so we threw it out in the woods where it was descended upon by birds and wild animals within minutes of leaving it. Next year we built a barn replete with marzipan farm animals. Then I went completely mad the next year making a replica of Caernarvon castle including an array of knights on horseback. After that I settled for a few gingerbread cookies as a token.

xmas6 xmas9 xmas8

LONDON - DECEMBER 04: A gv of a gingerbread Houses of Parliment and London Eye creation by Chef Beate Woellstein at the Grosvenor House Hotel on December 4, 2007 in London, England. The creation is 2.5 diameters and used 50 kilos of gingerbread dough. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Here’s my standard recipe for gingerbread to make a house. For a simple house this will be enough. For more elaborate displays you’ll need several batches.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger

Instructions

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan.

Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger in a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a little water.

Chill overnight.

Heat the oven to 390°F/200°C

Roll the gingerbread out to about ¼ inch (6cm) thick on baking parchment. Using a template, cut out the house components and remove all excess (which you can re-roll).

Bake on the parchment on cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. It may still be a bit soft after this time, but will harden on cooling. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Assemble the house using stiff icing sugar. Then decorate as you wish.

Mar 232015
 

Otis2

On this date in 1857 Elisha Otis installed his first elevator at 488 Broadway, New York City. Otis  (1811 –1861) was a U.S. industrialist, founder of the Otis Elevator Company, and inventor of a safety device that prevents elevators from falling if the hoisting cable fails. He worked on this device while living in Yonkers, New York in 1852, and had a finished product in 1854.

Otis was born in Halifax, Vermont to Stephen Otis, and Phoebe Glynn. He moved away from home at the age of 20, eventually settling in Troy, New York, where he lived for five years employed as a wagon driver. In 1834, he married Susan A. Houghton, and they had two children, Charles and Norton. Later that year, Otis suffered a terrible case of pneumonia which nearly killed him, but he earned enough money to move his wife and three-year-old son to the Vermont Hills on the Green River to convalesce. He designed and built his own gristmill, but did not earn enough money from it, so he converted it into a sawmill, yet still did not attract customers. Now having a second son, he started building wagons and carriages, at which he was fairly skilled. His wife later died, leaving Otis with two sons, one at that time being age 8 and the other still in diapers.

At 34 years old and hoping for a fresh start, he remarried and moved to Albany, New York. He worked as a doll maker for Otis Tingely. Skilled as a craftsman and tired of working all day to make only twelve toys, he invented and patented a robot turner. It could produce bedsteads four times as fast as could be done manually (about fifty a day). Otis then moved into his own business. At his leased building, he started designing a safety brake that could stop trains instantly and an automatic bread baking oven. He was put out of business when the stream he was using for a power supply was diverted by the city of Albany to be used for its fresh water supply. In 1851, having no more use for Albany, he first moved to Bergen City, New Jersey to work as a mechanic, then to Yonkers, New York, as a manager of an abandoned sawmill which he wished to convert into a bedstead factory. At the age of 40, while he was cleaning up the factory, he wondered how he could get all the old debris up to the upper levels of the factory. He had heard of hoisting platforms, but they often broke, and he didn’t want to take risks. He and his sons, who were also tinkerers, designed their own “safety elevator” and tested it successfully. He thought so little of it he neither patented it nor requested a bonus from his superiors for it, nor did he try to sell it. After having made several sales, and after the bedstead factory declined, Otis took the opportunity to make an elevator company out of it, initially called Union Elevator Works and later Otis Brothers & Co. No orders came to him over the next several months, but soon after, the 1854 New York World’s Fair offered a great chance at publicity. At the New York Crystal Palace, Elisha Otis amazed a crowd when he ordered the only rope holding the platform on which he was standing cut. The rope was severed by an axeman, and the platform fell only a few inches before coming to a halt. After the World’s Fair, Otis received continuous orders, doubling each year. He developed different types of engines, such as a three-way steam valve engine, which could switch the elevator between up, down, and stop rapidly.

otis3

In his spare time, he designed and experimented with his old designs of bread-baking ovens and train brakes, and patented a steam plow in 1857, a rotary oven in 1858, and, with Charles, the oscillating steam engine in 1860. Otis contracted diphtheria and died on April 8, 1861 at age 49.

The Otis Elevator Company is now the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems, principally focusing on elevators and escalators. Otis has installed elevators in some of the world’s most famous structures, including the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, the original World Trade Center, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Petronas Twin Towers, Burj Khalifa, CN Tower, the Hotel del Coronado, the “Pizza Elevator” at Lake Point Tower, and the Skylon Tower.

Statistically, Otis is the world’s most popular transportation company. It is estimated that the equivalent of the world’s population travels in Otis elevators, escalators and moving walkways every three days. According to United Technologies, Otis elevators alone carry the equivalent of the world’s population every nine days.

otis1

From the sublime to the ridiculous: yesterday I had to pick a recipe using water and today I have to have an elevator theme !! More of a challenge than I can manage. However, Otis also worked on developing the rotary oven which gives me a little leverage. The rotary oven has shelves or platters that revolve gently so that baking items receive even heat during the cooking process. The challenge for Otis was to create a mechanism for rotating the shelves before the days of electric motors. His invention, and others like it, used steam engines, which apparently were quite successful. For example, the Scottish born Australian baker William Arnott established the William Arnott’s Steam Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1865 using steam powered rotary ovens. Arnott’s is still the largest biscuit (cookie) manufacturer in Australia – fond memories from my boyhood.

otis4

Rotary ovens are used primarily for baked goods including biscuits and breads. But they are not for the home cook. They produce commercial quantities of baked goods. You don’t really need one at home because it is easy enough to reach into your oven and turn trays around for even baking. But when you are baking on a large scale they are invaluable.

There’s not really such a thing as a rotary oven recipe. You just use your favorite cookie or bread recipe. So, take your pick. I’m not much of a baker but I do like to make a gingerbread house at Christmas. My masterpiece was a replica of Caernarvon castle replete with a battle scene. Took me one year to paint all the knights and soldiers and the second to build the castle. A friend commented, “Hmmm! Peace on earth?”

Here’s a serviceable recipe that can be used for a house or cookies. If you want to go hog wild as I used to, you will need to double or even triple the recipe. This will make one small house or about 20 cookies.

This image is taken from here http://www.toptenz.net/10-gingerbread-houses.php – house builders after my own heart.  Pity I could not find a gingerbread house that needed an elevator.

otis5

Gingerbread

Ingredients

¾ cup unsulphured molasses
¾ cup butter
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

Warm the molasses in a saucepan until it is just softened. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and brown sugar.

Add the butter/molasses mixture and egg and mix well. Refrigerate at least one hour or until the dough becomes stiff enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Divide dough in half. Place each half between sheets of parchment paper. Place one half in the refrigerator to keep cool and roll out the other half to ⅛ to ¼ inch thick depending on use – thinner for cookies, thicker for house walls. Either use a template to make the components of a house, or a cookie cutter for cookies. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until an even golden brown, rotating the trays at least once to ensure even browning !!