Aug 122016
 

nr1

Today is the birthday (1925) of twins Norris Dewar McWhirter, CBE, and Alan Ross McWhirter, both of whom were athletes, sports journalists, television presenters, and co-founders of Guinness World Records, which began as The Guinness Book of Records, a book which they wrote and annually updated together between 1955 and 1975.

Norris and Ross were the twin sons (Norris was the elder) of William McWhirter, the editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret Williamson. In 1929, as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to “Aberfoyle”, in Broad Walk, Winchmore Hill.  Like their elder brother, Kennedy (born 1923), Norris and Ross were educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford.  Between 1943 and 1946, both served with the Royal Navy on active service in the Atlantic (escort duty) and the Pacific (minesweeping).

nr5

Ross and Norris both became sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they published Get to Your Marks, and earlier that year they had founded an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris’ words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” At the same time, he became a founding member of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians.

Norris came to public attention while working for the BBC as a sports commentator, when on 6 May 1954, he kept the time at Iffley Rd track in Oxford when Roger Bannister ran the first sub four-minute mile. His announcement after the race has gone down in sports history because of his droll drawing out of the delivery of the actual result:

As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes…

The rest of the announcement was drowned out in the deafening uproar.

nr6

One of the athletes in Bannister’s record mile, whom the twins knew and covered on several occasions, was Christopher Chataway, who, as an employee at Guinness, introduced them to Hugh Beaver (managing director of Guinness). After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoyed testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to start work on the book that would become The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first slim green volume – 198 pages long – was at the bookstalls, and in four months it was the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller.

Both brothers were regulars on the BBC television show The Record Breakers. They were noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about world records – both published and unpublished.

nr3

Both brothers had political views that I find repugnant. They were both highly conservative with pro-business, anti-trade union opinions (bordering on libertarian). Both stood for elections as Tory MPs, but were defeated. They also had hard-line policies concerning sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and England.

Ross was a vocal critic of British government policy in Northern Ireland, and called for a “tougher” response by the Army against Irish republicans. He advocated restrictions on the Irish community in Britain such as making it compulsory for all Irish people in Britain to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

On 27 November 1975, Ross was murdered by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom were members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture Ross had offered the reward. He was shot at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Enfield, Middlesex. Of course I absolutely deplore this murder, and admire his courage for standing out against violence. I will not brook any sentiment that suggests that he deserved to be a target.

Following Ross’s murder, Norris co-founded the right-wing political organization the National Association for Freedom (now The Freedom Association). This organization initiated legal challenges against the trade union movement in the UK, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and the European Economic Community (EEC), later the European Union (EU). I don’t agree with any of these stances or their political motivation.

nr7

After Ross’s death, Norris continued to appear alone on Record Breakers, eventually making him one of the most recognizable people on children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s, leading him to be made a CBE in 1980.

Norris retired from The Guinness Book of Records in 1985, though he continued in an advisory role until 1996, when he was forced out by the company, which wanted to downplay the listing of records in favor of dramatic illustrations. Nonetheless, he continued to write, editing a new reference book, Norris McWhirter’s Book of Millennium Records, in 1999. Norris died of a heart attack at his home in Kington Langley, Wiltshire, on 19 April 2004, aged 78.

Several world records that were once included in Guinness World Records have been removed for ethical reasons, including concerns for the wellbeing of potential record breakers. The “eating and drinking records” section of Human Achievements was dropped over concerns that potential competitors could harm themselves and expose the publisher to litigation. These changes included the removal of all liquor, wine, and beer drinking records, along with other unusual records for consuming such unlikely things as bicycles and trees. Nonetheless, the world’s largest, heaviest, etc. foods are still very much in play.

This gallery taken from this site — http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/03/18/top-7-record-breaking-foods/ — gives an idea of why you’re not going to break any records cooking today.

nrf4 nrf3 nrf2 nrf1

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be part of making such gargantuan dishes. They are surely a tribute to quantity over quality which I heartily disdain. World’s most expensive foods don’t float my boat either as in the case of this fish sandwich:

nrf5

The Birds Eye company created this sandwich to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It cost £187 to make.

Most delicious, most artistic, and so forth interest me a lot more, but here we’re dealing with personal aesthetics which are not quantifiable. You might be able to quantify world’s favorite, but that’s iffy. Oxfam recently did a survey of 16,000 people worldwide and determined that pasta was the most popular choice. Big help. What does that even mean? What kind of pasta? Prepared how? In general, food superlatives are of little interest to me. I don’t have a favorite food, as such. My tastes constantly change based on all manner of factors. The list of the foods I’ve disliked the most is fairly short, but, of course, it’s highly subjective, and every one of them is something that some people adore. I’ll die a happy man if I never eat sea cucumber with winter melon again, but it is considered a great delicacy in east Asia. You’ll at least give me credit for eating the whole plateful I was served, even though I wanted to run a mile.

nr2

Basically I think you ought to cook your own favorite today, but given that the McWhirters had a Scots heritage I’ll go with what many people outside of Scotland will grant as a (perhaps uniquely) strange dish in name and construction – crappit heid. Actually when it comes to a competition for strangest name in Scots’ cooking there are a lot of entrants: festy cock, clapshot, rumbledethumps, and fatty cutty are strong contenders. But crappit heid has name and ingredients on its side, even though it’s a great dish. Crappit heid is lowland Scots dialect for “stuffed head” – stuffed fish head to be precise.

nrf6

Crappit heid originated in the fishing communities of the Hebrides and North-Eastern Scotland in the 18th century. Money was scarce so the desirable fillets of cod or haddock were be sold by fishermen to markets, but the offal and less attractive parts were retained for the pot. Crappit heid was a common meal in fishing communities, consisting of the head of a large cod or similar sized fish, washed, descaled and then stuffed with a mixture of oats, suet, onion, white pepper and the liver of the fish. This was then sewn or skewered to close the aperture and boiled in seawater. The dish was served with potatoes or other root vegetables in season.

Although once a common dish in Scotland, crappit heid has, like many traditional dishes, become a rarity. Cod livers are now harder to obtain and usually only available if the fish has been caught by local line fishermen. However if you can get them, they add valuable nutrients including, of course, cod liver oil. I don’t live anywhere near the sea at present and can’t get access to whole fresh fish to give it a whirl. I don’t imagine either that any of my readers will want to rush out to snag fish heads for dinner. Here’s a website instead that tells you all you want if you are interested. The URL says it all:

http://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/general/a-history-of-crappit-heid-including-a-recipe-for-making-your-own/

Dec 312015
 

ag2

Arthur Guinness began brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin, and on this date in 1759, he signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the brewery. At the outset he brewed a variety of beers. One of them was called “stout” which originally referred to a beer’s strength, but eventually shifted meaning toward body and color. Arthur Guinness started selling dark beer porter in 1778. The first Guinness® beers to use the term “stout” were Single Stout and Double Stout in the 1840s. Throughout the bulk of its history, Guinness produced only three variations of a single beer type: porter or single stout, double or extra, and foreign stout for export.

ag1

Guinness stout is made from water, barley, roast malt extract, hops, and brewer’s yeast. A portion of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its dark color and characteristic taste. It is pasteurized and filtered. Despite its reputation as a “meal in a glass”, Guinness only contains 198 kcal (838 kilojoules) per imperial pint (1460 kJ/L), slightly fewer than skimmed milk, orange juice, and most other non-light beers.

ag4

Until the late 1950s Guinness was still racked into wooden casks. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Guinness ceased brewing cask-conditioned beers and developed a keg brewing system with aluminium kegs replacing the wooden casks; these were nicknamed “iron lungs.” Draught Guinness and its canned counterpart contain nitrogen as well as carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge” (the widget in cans and bottles achieves the same effect). This “widget” is a small plastic ball containing the nitrogen with also just a little beer itself. The perceived smoothness of draught Guinness is due to its low level of carbon dioxide and the creaminess of the head caused by the very fine bubbles that arise from the use of nitrogen and the dispensing method described above. “Original Extra Stout” contains only carbon dioxide, causing a more acidic taste.

ag20

Contemporary Guinness Draught and Extra Stout are weaker than they were in the 19th century, when they had an original gravity of over 1.070. The current Foreign Extra Stout and Special Export Stout, with abv of 7.5% and 9% respectively, are perhaps closest to the original in character. Although Guinness may appear to be black, it is really (and officially) a very dark shade of ruby.

ag17

Guinness breweries pioneered several quality control efforts. The brewery hired the statistician William Sealy Gosset in 1899, who achieved lasting fame under the pseudonym “Student” for techniques developed for Guinness, particularly Student’s t-distribution and the even more commonly known Student’s t-test. These were developed by Gosset for quality control of grains used in brewing, but are now fundamental to basic statistical analysis. He used a pseudonym because Guinness employees were forbidden from publishing research results.

By 1900 the brewery was operating unparalleled welfare schemes for its 5,000 employees. By 1907 the welfare schemes were costing the brewery £40,000 a year, which was one fifth of the total wages bill. The improvements were suggested and supervised by Sir John Lumsden.

ag21

The story is told, and substantially confirmed, that on 10 November 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in the North Slob, by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse (it is the plover). That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe’s fastest game bird. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records. He realized then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful.

Beaver’s idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended Oxford University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The twin brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that Chataway was one of Roger Bannister’s pacers and Norris McWhirter was the track announcer and an official timekeeper for Bannister’s successful sub-4 minute mile at Iffley track in Oxford in 1954 (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/4-minute-mile/).

ag18 ag19

Guinness advertizing has been well known for decades for its ingenuity and humor. Here’s a small gallery:

ag10 ag8 ag7 ag6 ag5

Guinness is a common ingredient in cooking everything from stews and pies to cakes and puddings. Wherever beer is called for in a recipe, Guinness can be used. You can make a Guinness batter for deep frying, steak and Guinness pie, Guinness cake – whatever suits your fancy and your palate. This is the Guinness page for recipes and pairings — https://www.guinness.com/en/recipes-and-pairings/ For a classic taste I’d try the beef and oyster pie on this page: very Victorian.

ag11

I’ll go with Guinness and chocolate ice cream as the weirdest, although chocolate beer is quite common in Belgium and Germany. To avoid copyright infringement, I’ll give the URL for the recipe:

http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-review-david-lebovitzs-45655

Otherwise, here’s a few ideas:

ag3 ag15 ag14 ag12