Nov 212017
 

Today is probably the birthday (1694) of François-Marie Arouet, known to posterity by his nom de plume: Voltaire. He was known in his day, and still is, for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state. For these, and other “sins,” he was imprisoned in France and then exiled for some time. In addition, life was frequently made uncomfortable for him in his native Paris. But he stuck to his guns, suffering the usual fate of those who criticize (or in his case ridicule) the powers that be. He was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets.

Voltaire was born in Paris, the youngest of the five children of François Arouet (19 August 1649 – 1 January 1722), a lawyer who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite Daumard (c. 1660 – 13 July 1701), whose family was on the lowest rank of the French nobility. Some speculation surrounds Voltaire’s date of birth, because he claimed he was born on 20 February 1694 as the illegitimate son of a nobleman, Guérin de Rochebrune or Roquebrune. Two of his older brothers—Armand-François and Robert—died in infancy and his surviving brother, Armand, and sister Marguerite-Catherine were 9 and 7 years older, respectively. Voltaire was baptized on 22 November 1694, with François de Castagnère, abbé de Châteauneuf, and Marie Daumard, the wife of his mother’s cousin, standing as godparents. He was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704–1711), where he was taught Latin, theology, and rhetoric. Later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.

By the time he left school, Voltaire had decided he wanted to be a writer, against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer. Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as an assistant to a notary, spent much of his time writing poetry. When his father found out, he sent Voltaire to study law, this time in Caen. Nevertheless, he continued to write, producing essays and historical studies. Voltaire’s wit made him popular among some of the aristocratic families with whom he mixed. In 1713, his father obtained a job for him as a secretary to the new French ambassador in the Netherlands, the marquis de Châteauneuf, the brother of Voltaire’s godfather. At The Hague, Voltaire fell in love with a French Protestant refugee named Catherine Olympe Dunoyer (known as ‘Pimpette’). Their scandalous affair was discovered by de Châteauneuf and Voltaire was forced to return to France by the end of the year.

Most of Voltaire’s early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for critiques of the government. These activities were to result in two imprisonments and a temporary exile to England. One satirical verse, in which Voltaire accused the Régent of incest with his own daughter, led to an 11-month imprisonment in the Bastille (16 May 1717 to 15 April 1718 in a windowless cell with ten-foot thick walls). The Comédie-Française had agreed in January 1717 to stage his debut play, Œdipe, and it opened in mid-November 1718, seven months after his release. Its immediate critical and financial success established his reputation. Both the Régent and King George I of Great Britain presented Voltaire with medals as a mark of their appreciation.

He mainly argued for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. He campaigned to eradicate priestly and aristo-monarchical authority, and supported a constitutional monarchy, along the lines of the British monarchy, that protected people’s rights against absolutism.

He adopted the name “Voltaire” in 1718, following his incarceration at the Bastille. Its origin is unclear. It is an anagram of AROVET LI, the Latinized spelling of his surname, Arouet, and the initial letters of le jeune (“the young”). According to a family tradition among the descendants of his sister, he was known as le petit volontaire (“determined little thing”) as a child, and he resurrected a variant of the name in his adult life. The name also reverses the syllables of Airvault, his family’s home town in the Poitou region.

In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau in March 1719, Voltaire concludes by asking that, if Rousseau wishes to send him a return letter, he do so by addressing it to Monsieur de Voltaire. A postscript explains: “J’ai été si malheureux sous le nom d’Arouet que j’en ai pris un autre surtout pour n’être plus confondu avec le poète Roi”, (I was so unhappy under the name of Arouet that I have taken another, primarily so as to cease to be confused with the poet Roi.) This probably refers to Adenes le Roi, and the ‘oi’ diphthong was then pronounced like modern ‘ouai’, so the similarity to ‘Arouet’ is clear, and thus, it could well have been part of his rationale. Who knows?

Voltaire came under a lot of criticism in his lifetime for his open mindedness about numerous subjects, especially religion. The accusation that he was anti-Semitic is unfair, I believe. He disliked most religions, especially the faiths of Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), quite equally. He did approve of Hinduism, however, because it had a distinct openness to a variety of avenues into the spiritual.

Voltaire’s view of historiography was not absolutely original, but it was deeply influential. In his article on “History” in Diderot’s Encyclopédie he wrote, “One demands of modern historians more details, better ascertained facts, precise dates, more attention to customs, laws, mores, commerce, finance, agriculture, population.” Voltaire’s histories imposed the values of the Enlightenment on the past it is true, but at the same time he helped free historiography from antiquarianism, Eurocentrism, religious intolerance, and a concentration on great men, diplomacy, and warfare.

His Essay on Customs traced the progress of world civilization in a universal context, thereby rejecting both nationalism and the traditional Christian frame of reference. Influenced by Bossuet’s Discourse on the Universal History (1682), he was the first scholar to make a serious attempt to write the history of the world, eliminating theological frameworks, and emphasizing economics, culture and political history. He treated Europe as a whole, rather than a collection of nations. He was the first to emphasize the debt of medieval culture to Middle Eastern civilization, but was rather weak on the Middle Ages on the whole. Although he repeatedly warned against political bias on the part of the historian, he did not miss many opportunities to expose the intolerance and frauds of the church over the ages. Voltaire advised scholars that anything contradicting the normal course of nature was not to be believed.

I could go on, but you can read Voltaire for yourself. Here’s a few quotes I enjoy.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.

Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.

‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.

In February 1778, Voltaire returned for the first time in over 25 years to Paris, among other reasons to see the opening of his latest tragedy, Irene. The 5-day journey was too much for the 83-year-old, and he believed he was about to die on 28 February, writing “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.” However, he recovered, and in March saw a performance of Irene, where he was treated by the audience as a returning hero after years of (mostly self-imposed) exile from the capital. He soon became ill again and died on 30 May 1778. The accounts of his deathbed have been numerous and varying, and it has not been possible to establish the details of what precisely occurred. His enemies related that he repented and accepted the last rites given by a Catholic priest, or that he died under great torment, while his adherents told how he was defiant to his last breath. According to one story of his last words, his response to a priest at his deathbed urging him to renounce Satan was “Now is not the time for making new enemies.” However, this appears to have originated from a joke first published in a Massachusetts newspaper in 1856, and was only attributed to Voltaire in the 1970s.

Because of his well-known criticism of the Church, which he had refused to retract before his death, Voltaire was denied a Christian burial in Paris, but friends and relations managed to bury his body secretly at the Abbey of Scellières in Champagne, where his companion’s, Marie Louise Mignot’s, brother was abbé. His heart and brain were embalmed separately

One final quote:

Ice-cream is exquisite – what a pity it isn’t illegal.

Ice cream was popularized in the 18th century by French and Italian chefs and caught on in England. You had to keep ice in an ice house, collected in winter and stored until summer, but with it you could use a forerunner of the modern ice-cream churn, the sabotiere, probably invented in Naples in the 17th century. Frozen ices, akin to sorbets, were more common than ice cream, but I am sure Voltaire meant ice cream using cream and eggs.

Italian chef Domenico Negri who worked in London in the 1760s popularized continental ice cream. His apprentice Frederick Nutt published The Complete Confectioner in 1789, giving 32 recipes for ice cream and 24 for water ices.

This one is interesting. By “syrup” he means a simple syrup of half sugar and half water, boiled and cooled.

Parmesan Ice Cream

Take six eggs, half a pint of syrup and a pint of cream put them into stewpan and boil them until it begins to thicken; then rasp three ounces of parmesan cheese, mix and pass them through a sieve, and freeze it.

This one might be more what Voltaire was thinking of however:

Royal Ice Cream

Take the yolks of ten eggs and two whole eggs; beat them up well with your spoon; then take the rind of one lemon, two gills of syrup, one pint of cream, a little spice, and a little orange flower water; mix them all well and put them over the fire, stirring them all the time with your spoon; when you find it grows thick take it off, and pass it through a sieve; put it into a freezing pot, freeze it, and take a little citron , and lemon and orange peel with a few pistachio nuts blanched; cut them all and mince them with your ice before you put them in your moulds.

Feb 042017
 

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Today, the first Saturday in February, has been recognized for about 50 years (unofficially, of course) as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFBD).  The holiday was invented on a snowy winter day in the 1960s by Florence Rappaport in Rochester, New York. Florence had six children, but it was her youngest two, Ruth (now Kramer) and Joe Rappaport, who inspired her on a cold and snowy February morning. To entertain them, she declared it to be Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. She recalls, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and a family custom began. The exact year of the first ICFBD is unrecorded, but it is speculated to be 1966, when a huge blizzard hit Rochester in late January, dumping several feet of snow on Rochester and shutting down schools. When the siblings grew up, they held parties and introduced the custom to friends while in college, and it began to spread.

The holiday began to spread across the world thanks to Florence’s grandchildren, who have traveled extensively. Celebrations have been recorded in Nepal, Namibia, Germany, New Zealand, and Honduras. Some are small family celebrations and others are larger parties. The holiday has even been celebrated in China since 2003 and was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and local magazines in Hangzhou, China. Ice Cream for Breakfast Day enjoys particular popularity in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on ICFBD in 2013 in Hebrew and then in 2014 in English.

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I’ve always been interested in what people eat for breakfast in general (from the sidelines). For many years I’ve eaten whatever I want – curry, leftovers, soup, eggs . . . anything that I fancy at the time.  I find the idea of certain foods being designated as “breakfast foods” (particularly eggs or cereals) patently absurd, but millions of people throughout the world have fixed notions of what you can and cannot eat for breakfast.  Some eateries in the UK advertise “breakfast served all day” meaning that there is a fixed notion of what breakfast should consist of, despite the fact that you can eat it at any time of day.

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The word “breakfast” itself is relatively modern. The Old English word for dinner, “disner,” means to break a fast, and was originally the first meal eaten in the day until its meaning shifted in the mid-13th century. It was not until the 15th century that “breakfast” came into use in written English to describe a morning meal, literally meaning to “break” the “fast” of the prior night.

Having a meal to start the day before work has obvious benefits and is occasionally noted in ancient texts. Manual workers in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all ate something to begin the work day, but it was not a meal that differed in any substantive way from other meals – it was just regular food, including things such as bread, cheese, olives, dried fruit, legumes, and so forth (along with beer or wine).

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In the Middle Ages in Europe, breakfast was not usually considered a necessary and important meal, and was practically nonexistent during the earlier medieval period. Only two formal meals were eaten per day—one at mid-day and one in the evening. The exact times varied by period and region, but this two-meal system remained consistent throughout the Middle Ages. Many written accounts in the medieval period disparage eating in the morning. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica (1265–1274) that breakfast committed “praepropere,” or the sin of eating too soon, which was associated with gluttony. Breakfast in some times and places was solely granted to children, the elderly, the sick, and to working men. Eating breakfast, therefore, meant that one was poor, was a low-status farmer or laborer who truly needed the energy to sustain his morning’s labor, or was too weak to make it to the large, midday dinner, and was potentially shameful.

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By the 15th century breakfast became a more common practice for nobles and by the early 16th century, recorded expenses for breakfast became customary in household account books. The 16th -century introduction of caffeinated beverages into the European diet was part of the reason for allowing breakfast; it was believed that coffee and tea aided the body in “evacuation of superfluities” if they were drunk in the morning.

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To the best of my knowledge, the makings of the classic Full English breakfast date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My musings on this subject can be found here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/  and elsewhere on the blog. Meanwhile here’s a description I like of a traveler’s breakfast in England from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published in 1857 but reminiscing about the 1830s).  Tom is on his way from Berkshire to Rugby by coach, and makes a stop at an inn on the way in the morning:

And here comes breakfast.

“Twenty minutes here, gentlemen,” says the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.

Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not this a worthy reward for much endurance? There is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed) by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher.

And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands–kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all. The cold meats are removed to the sideboard–they were only put on for show and to give us an appetite. And now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous.

Two or three men in pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as indeed we all are.

“Tea or coffee, sir?” says head waiter, coming round to Tom.

“Coffee, please,” says Tom, with his mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee is a treat to him, tea is not.

Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us, is a cold beef man. He also eschews hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by the barmaid. Sportsman looks on approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.

Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum . . .

You can find the same basic elements in Mrs Beeton (1861).  She speaks of steaks, chops, eggs, kidneys, bacon etc. as breakfast food, but she does not single them out as uniquely fit for breakfast.  The elements of a hearty breakfast are proteins, bread of some sort, and tea or coffee (or small beer).

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The addition of breakfast cereals to the mix was a U.S. invention by the likes of C.W. Post and the Kellogg brothers http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kelloggs-corn-flakes/ following an almost universal trend for centuries of eating cereals (in the generic sense), that is, oats, rice, corn, etc. to start the day, simply because they were daily staples for many people throughout the world.

Nowadays I neither eat a meal you could label as “breakfast” nor do I eat foods you would call “breakfast foods” (at any time of the day). I eat what I want, when I want.  So, why not ice-cream for breakfast? – not just today, but any day.

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Dec 282016
 

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On this date in 1836 South Australia was officially proclaimed as a new British colony near The Old Gum Tree in what is now the suburb of Glenelg North. The event is commemorated in South Australia as Proclamation Day. I grew up in Gawler, South Australia so today has something of a resonance for me. I’ve not returned since 1965 but around this time of year I sense the urge to visit once again and get a little nostalgic. Proclamation Day used to be a public holiday, but it was never important for my family because we were on school summer holidays anyway. Still, the founding of South Australia is an important event, rarely noted in the histories (not even in my own history classes), because it was overshadowed by the eastern colonies and cities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, etc. – and the eastern explorers.

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A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield was looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labor. Wakefield suggested that instead of granting free land to settlers as had happened in other colonies, the land should be sold. The money from land purchases would be used solely to transport laborers to the colony free of charge; they would be responsible people and skilled workers rather than paupers and convicts. Land prices needed to be high enough so that workers who saved to buy land of their own remained in the workforce long enough to avoid a labor shortage.

In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River and was impressed with what he briefly saw while passing through Lake Alexandrina, later writing:

Hurried ….as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a country of more promising aspect, or more favourable position, than that which occupies the space between the lake (Lake Alexandrina) and the ranges of the St Vincent Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker stretches away, without any visible boundary.

Captain Collet Barker, sent by New South Wales Governor Ralph Darling, conducted a more thorough survey of the area in 1831, as recommended by Sturt. After swimming the mouth of the Murray River, Barker was killed by aboriginees who may have been suspicious of him because of contact with sealers and escaped convicts in the region. Despite this, his more detailed survey led Sturt to conclude in his 1833 report:

It would appear that a spot has at last been found upon the south coast of New Holland to which the colonists might venture with every prospect of success ….All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of the St. Vincent’s Gulf agree as to the richness of its soil and the abundance of its pastures.

In 1834 the South Australian Association, with the aid of such figures as George Grote, William Molesworth and the Duke of Wellington persuaded British Parliament to pass the South Australia Colonisation Act 1834. The Act stated that 802,511 square kilometers would be allotted to the colony and to be convict-free. The plan for the colony to be the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society, that is, no religious discrimination or unemployment. The province and its capital were named prior to settlement. The Act further specified that it was to be self-sufficient; £20,000 surety had to be created and £35,000 worth of land had to be sold in the new colony before any settlement was permitted. These conditions were fulfilled by the close of 1835.

While New South Wales, Tasmania and (although not initially) Western Australia were established as convict settlements, the founders of South Australia had a vision for a colony with political and religious freedoms, together with opportunities for wealth through business and pastoral investments. The South Australia Act  reflected these desires and included a promise of representative government when the population reached 50,000 people. South Australia thus became the only colony authorized by an Act of Parliament, and which was intended to be developed at no cost to the British government. Transportation of convicts was forbidden, and ‘poor Emigrants,’ assisted by an Emigration Fund, were required to bring their families with them. Significantly, the Letters Patent enabling the South Australia Act included a guarantee of the rights of ‘any Aboriginal Natives’ and their descendants to lands they ‘now actually occupied or enjoyed.’ These noble intentions were not fulfilled of course.

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The western and eastern boundaries of the colony were set at 132° and 141° East of Greenwich, and to the north at the Tropic of Capricorn, (23° 26′ South). The western and eastern boundary points were chosen as they marked the extent of coastline first surveyed by Matthew Flinders in 1802.

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In 1836, the John Pirie and the Duke of York of the South Australia Land Company set sail for South Australia to establish the first settlement on Kangaroo Island. Royal Navy Rear-Admiral John Hindmarsh was selected to be South Australia’s first governor. The first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836. A total of nine ships consisting of 636 people set sail from London for South Australia. The ships in the fleet included the Cygnet (carrying Colonel William Light’s surveyors), Africaine, Tam O’Shanter, Rapid, and HMS Buffalo (carrying Hindmarsh). After an eight-month voyage around the world, most of the ships took supplies and settlers to Kangaroo Island. They landed at Kingscote to await official decisions on the location and administration of the new colony.

Surveyor Colonel William Light was given two months to locate the most advantageous location for the main colony. He was required to find a site with a harbor, arable land, fresh water, ready internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. Light rejected potential locations for the new main settlement, including Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, and Encounter Bay. Light decided that the Adelaide plains were the best location for settlement. Most of the settlers were moved from Kangaroo Island to Holdfast Bay with Governor Hindmarsh arriving on 28 December 1836 to proclaim the province of South Australia.

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The date 28 December as a public holiday in South Australia was modified to the first otherwise working day after the Christmas Day public holiday (i.e. usually 26 December). Formal ceremonies involving the most senior current officials and politicians, followed by public celebrations, continue to be held at the still-extant Old Gum Tree at Glenelg on 28 December.

A Christmas bombe is an entirely suitable treat for this day. When I lived in South Australia my mum used to make a full roast dinner for Christmas followed by Christmas pudding, all of which would make the kitchen (where we ate), an absolute furnace. But for my mum tradition was tradition even though it sometimes topped out at 100°F(38°C) and we had no air conditioning; not even a fan. Even so it would have been unthinkable for her to deviate from her British traditions.

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When I was raising a family in New York I usually made a traditional British Christmas dinner, but ice cream at Christmas was actually a Victorian favorite, especially chestnut ice cream — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/w-s-gilbert/ — so sometimes I made a bombe. You can make your own ice cream for this, or use store bought. You’ll need a large mould.  I used to use a flat-bottomed metal bowl, the same one I used to boil my puddings.

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Over the years I made two different kinds of bombes. My original attempts were simply tri-colored bombes. All you need is ice cream of three nicely contrasting colors. Butter the mould well and line it with plastic wrap. Soften one ice cream so that it spreads easily. Then coat the base of the mould with it. Set up the ice cream in the mould in the freezer for several hours. Soften the next color of ice cream, then remove the mould from the freezer, spread the second ice cream inside the first leaving a hollow in the center, and return the mould to the freezer. When the second ice cream has set up, soften the last ice cream. Then fill the hollow with the third flavor, smooth off the bottom, and let the whole set up. To serve, have a basin of warm water handy. Dip the mould in the warm water to release the bombe. Turn it out on a plate, remove the plastic wrap, and serve sliced. If you want you can give guests a fruit syrup. It depends on the flavors of the ice cream.

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If you are adventurous you can make mincemeat ice cream with brandied cherries. This takes all of Advent to prepare. First, around 6 weeks before Christmas, fill a large mason jar with pitted bitter cherries and pour good quality brandy over them. Seal the jar and set aside. Every day or so invert the jar so that it spends half the time on its base and half on its lid. Make the bombe 2 or 3 days ahead of time. I always made my own vanilla ice cream and mincemeat for this recipe but you can use store bought if you want. My vanilla ice cream recipe is here, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/helen-keller/ and my mincemeat recipe is here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/first-sunday-advent/

Soften the vanilla ice cream and mix it well with mincemeat. The proportions are entirely up to you but I would not overdo the mincemeat. Butter a mould and line it with plastic wrap. Fill the mould with the ice cream and mincemeat mix, and let it set up overnight. To serve, unmould the ice cream on to a serving platter, and spoon the brandied cherries with some of the flavored brandy over the top.

Nov 272015
 

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Today is the birthday (1701) of Anders Celsius, a Swedish astronomer, physicist and mathematician. He was professor of astronomy at Uppsala University from 1730 to 1744, but traveled from 1732 to 1735 visiting notable observatories in Germany, Italy and France. He founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741, and in 1742 proposed a temperature scale which now bears his name.

Celsius was born in Uppsala in Sweden, but his family originated from Ovanåker in the province of Hälsingland. Their family estate was at Doma, also known as Höjen or Högen (locally as Högen 2). The name Celsius is a latinization of the estate’s name (Latin celsus “mound”).

As the son of an astronomy professor, Nils Celsius, and the grandson of the mathematician Magnus Celsius and the astronomer Anders Spole, Celsius chose a career in science. He was a talented mathematician from an early age. Anders Celsius studied at Uppsala University, where his father was a teacher, and in 1730 he too, became a professor of astronomy there.

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In 1730, Celsius published the Nova Methodus distantiam solis a terra determinandi (New Method for Determining the Distance from the Earth to the Sun). His research also involved the study of auroral phenomena, which he conducted with his assistant Olof Hiorter, and he was the first to suggest a connection between the aurora borealis and changes in the magnetic field of the Earth. He observed the variations of a compass needle and found that larger deflections correlated with stronger auroral activity. At Nuremberg in 1733, he published a collection of 316 observations of the aurora borealis made by himself and others over the period 1716–1732.

Celsius traveled frequently in the early 1730s, including to Germany, Italy and France, when he visited most of the major European observatories. In Paris he advocated the measurement of an arc of the meridian in Lapland. In 1736, he participated in the expedition organized for that purpose by the French Academy of Sciences, led by the French mathematician Pierre Louis Maupertuis (1698–1759) to measure a degree of latitude. The aim of the expedition was to measure the length of a degree along a meridian, close to the pole, and compare the result with a similar expedition to Peru, near the equator. The expeditions confirmed Isaac Newton’s belief that the shape of the earth is an ellipsoid flattened at the poles.

In 1738, he published the De observationibus pro figura telluris determinanda (Observations on Determining the Shape of the Earth). Celsius’ participation in the Lapland expedition won him much respect in Sweden with the government and his peers, and played a key role in generating interest from the Swedish authorities in donating the resources required to construct a new modern observatory in Uppsala. He was successful in the request, and Celsius founded the Uppsala Astronomical Observatory in 1741. The observatory was equipped with instruments purchased during his long voyage abroad, comprising the most modern instrumental technology of the period.

In astronomy, Celsius began a series of observations using colored glass plates to record the magnitude (a measure of brightness) of certain stars. This was the first attempt to measure the intensity of starlight with a tool other than the human eye. He made observations of eclipses and various astronomical objects and published catalogs of carefully determined magnitudes for some 300 stars using his own photometric system (mean error=0.4 mag).

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Celsius was the first to perform and publish careful experiments aiming at the definition of an international temperature scale on scientific grounds. In his Swedish paper “Observations of two persistent degrees on a thermometer” he reports on experiments to check that the freezing point is independent of latitude (and of atmospheric pressure). He determined the dependence of the boiling of water on atmospheric pressure which was accurate even by modern day standards. He further gave a rule for the determination of the boiling point if the barometric pressure deviates from a certain standard pressure. He proposed the Celsius temperature scale in a paper to the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, the oldest Swedish scientific society, founded in 1710. His thermometer was calibrated with a value of 100° for the freezing point of water and 0° for the boiling point. In 1745, a year after Celsius’ death, the scale was reversed by Carl Linnaeus to facilitate more practical measurement. Celsius originally called his scale “centigrade” derived from the Latin for “hundred steps”. For years it was simply referred to as the Swedish thermometer.

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Celsius conducted many geographical measurements for the Swedish General map, and was one of earliest to note that much of Scandinavia is slowly rising above sea level, a continuous process which has been occurring since the melting of the ice from the latest ice age. However, he wrongly posited the notion that the water was evaporating.

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In 1725 he became secretary of the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, and served at this post until his death from tuberculosis in 1744.

Here’s a map of the world showing all the nations that use the Celsius scale, and those that use the Fahrenheit scale. Hmmmm.

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Barely visible are the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, and the Republic of Palau.

This is why I often use both Celsius and Fahrenheit in my recipes (sop to the USA). Anyway, I’m slightly haphazard about metric versus imperial measure in general because I’m not a big fan of precision in cooking in general (except baking). It’s hard enough for me to include measures at all. With oven temperatures I give exact measures because ovens come that way, but I don’t think in those terms. I think in heuristic terms, such as hot, medium, etc. Partly this is because ovens are so variable. At one time I used an internal oven thermometer, but these days I wing it. My oven in China never got hot enough for me, and my current one seems to have two settings – furnace and off. I manage.

The cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is native to Sweden and very popular there. Sadly, it is very difficult to cultivate, so it’s almost impossible to find fresh cloudberries outside of northern latitudes. Nonetheless, I am going to give you a recipe for cloudberry ice cream made with fresh berries. Slightly modified, this recipe can be made with cloudberry preserves, which are much more easily found worldwide. I am choosing ice cream for today’s celebration because Celsius determined that the freezing point of pure water was invariant (and so became one end of his temperature scale). Also, Swedes are the heaviest consumers of ice cream in the world. Cloudberry ice cream and chilled cloudberry cream are common favorites.

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Hjortronglass (Cloudberry Ice Cream)

Ingredients

18 ounces fresh cloudberries (about 4 cups)
¾ cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
kosher salt
1½ cups heavy cream, divided
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

Cook the berries and ¼ cup of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the berries are soft and starting to release their juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside ½ cup of sauce. Purée the remaining sauce in a blender until smooth, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring glass (you should have about 1 cup). Let cool.

Whisk the egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and the remaining ½ cup sugar in a medium bowl until lightened in color. Bring 1 cup of cream to a boil in a medium saucepan. Immediately remove from the heat and very gradually whisk half of the cream into the egg yolk mixture. Be very careful here because you can easily scramble the egg. Whisking constantly, add the egg mixture to the remaining cream in the pan and then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened, about 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Chill until cold.

Whisk the custard, berry purée, lemon juice, and remaining ½ cup of cream until smooth. Process in an ice cream maker of your choice.

Spoon in the reserved berry sauce, then scrape the ice cream into an airtight container (you want nice streaks of sauce still visible). Cover and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Jun 272015
 

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Today is the birthday (1880) of Helen Adams Keller, an internationally celebrated deafblind U.S. author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film “The Miracle Worker.” Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama is now a museum and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”. Her birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth.

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Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her family lived on a homestead, Ivy Green, that her grandfather had built decades earlier. Keller was born with the ability to see and hear. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. At that time, she was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family.

In 1886, Keller’s mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens’ American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school’s director, asked 20-year-old former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller’s instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller’s governess and eventually her companion.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller’s house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with “d-o-l-l” for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for “mug”, Keller became so frustrated she broke the mug.[18] Keller’s big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of “water”; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.

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Starting in May 1888, Keller attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind. In 1894, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan moved to New York to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, and to learn from Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896, they returned to Massachusetts and Keller entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College, where she lived in Briggs Hall, South House. Her admirer, Mark Twain, had introduced her to Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, who, with his wife Abbie, paid for her education. In 1904, at the age of 24, Keller graduated from Radcliffe, becoming the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She maintained a correspondence with the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue Wilhelm Jerusalem, who was one of the first to discover her literary abilities.

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Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak, and spent much of her life giving speeches and lectures. She learned to “hear” people’s speech by reading their lips with her hands—her sense of touch had become extremely subtle. She became proficient at using braille and reading sign language with her hands as well. Shortly before World War I, with the assistance of the Zoellner Quartet she determined that by placing her fingertips on a resonant tabletop she could experience music played close by.

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Anne Sullivan stayed as a companion to Helen Keller long after she taught her. Anne married John Macy in 1905, and her health started failing around 1914. Polly Thomson was hired to keep house. She was a young woman from Scotland who had no experience with deaf or blind people. She progressed to working as a secretary as well, and eventually became a constant companion to Keller. Keller moved to Forest Hills, Queens, together with Anne and John, and used the house as a base for her efforts on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Anne Sullivan died in 1936 after a coma, with Keller holding her hand. Keller and Thomson moved to Connecticut. They traveled worldwide and raised funds for the blind. Thomson had a stroke in 1957 from which she never fully recovered, and died in 1960. Winnie Corbally, a nurse who was originally brought in to care for Thompson in 1957, stayed on after her death and was Keller’s companion for the rest of her life.

In 1911 Keller wrote:

The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands—the ownership and control of their livelihoods—are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.

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She went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920 she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller traveled to over 40 countries with Sullivan, making several trips to Japan and becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Keller met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Keller and Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed over in popular perception.

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Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working class from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Before reading Progress and Poverty, Helen Keller was already a socialist who believed that Georgism was a good step in the right direction. She later wrote of finding “in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature.”

Newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she expressed her socialist views now called attention to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her “mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development.” Keller responded to that editor, referring to having met him before he knew of her political views:

At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. … Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which are trying to prevent.

Keller joined the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, known as the Wobblies) in 1912, saying that parliamentary socialism was “sinking in the political bog”. She wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In Why I Became an IWW, Keller explained that her motivation for activism came in part from her concern about blindness and other disabilities:

I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.

The last sentence refers to prostitution and syphilis, the former a frequent cause of the latter, and the latter a leading cause of blindness.

When Keller was young, Anne Sullivan introduced her to Phillips Brooks, who, in turn, introduced her to Christianity, Keller famously saying: “I always knew He was there, but I didn’t know His name!” Her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, was published in 1927 and then in 1994 extensively revised and re-issued under the title Light in My Darkness. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian revelator and theologian who gives a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and who claims that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already taken place.

Keller described the progressive views of her belief in these words:

But in Swedenborg’s teaching it [Divine Providence] is shown to be the government of God’s Love and Wisdom and the creation of uses. Since His Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His Providence must needs be universal . . . He has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he is faithful to his ideals of right living.

Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life at her home. In September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

Keller died in her sleep on June 1, 1968, at her home, Arcan Ridge, located in Easton, Connecticut, a few weeks short of her eighty-eighth birthday. A service was held in her honor at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and her ashes were placed there next to her constant companions, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson.

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Helen Keller fondly recalled many foods from her childhood in her autobiography, The Story of My Life. These were: ice cream, bread and butter, raisins, Christmas cakes/cookies. Her father grew grapes, berries, watermelons, and strawberries in his garden. He always brought Helen the first grapes and choicest berries. Helen loved her family’s orchard which grew peaches and apples. She was also a great lover of hot dogs, but since I have already devoted two posts to them, let me switch gears and talk about ice cream.

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My wife was a huge fan of ice cream, and she and I spent years perfecting our own recipes. By the time of her death we owned 5 ice cream makers of various sorts. Our favorite was an old hand-cranked model of the bucket with salt and ice variety, although the others were less labor. The thing about hand cranking is that you can vary the speed of churning – slowing down as the ice cream freezes to produce a smoother finished product. My wife also loved ice creams that were drowning in butterfat, but it took us years for us to get it right. We found that the more heavy cream we used the gummier the ice cream was. Then we found a magazine article by Gaston Lenôtre who advocated adding butter to the custard. Voilà !! Problem solved. Here’s our recipe for vanilla ice cream from memory. Make sure you use the best vanilla pods you can find. We mail ordered Madagascar beans. Perhaps later I’ll talk about our other favorite flavors. For now I recommend serving this one with a fresh fruit salad to honor Keller.

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©Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients

6 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
2 vanilla beans split open lengthwise

Instructions

Heat the milk in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly, until it starts to bubble. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved, then add the vanilla beans. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks until they are pale yellow. Add a little hot milk slowly to the egg yolks whilst whisking.   Pour this mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the milk.

Cook the custard over low heat, stirring constantly. This is a critical step. You must cook it until it coats a spoon such that if you draw your finger through it on the back of the spoon, the custard does not flow back immediately. Do not overcook otherwise it will become scrambled egg and you will have to start again. Constant stirring prevents sticking. Sometimes I use a double boiler which prevents sticking or burning, but will not prevent curdling.

Remove from the heat and add the cream and butter. Whisk until smooth and the butter has melted. Remove the vanilla pods and scrape the inner vanilla flecks into the custard.

Chill the custard in the refrigerator until it is as cold as you can get it. Then churn in the ice cream maker of your choice. When finished it will be soft, but delectable. If you can resist eating it all at that point, pack it into a ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, seal it, and place it in the freezer for several hours. Do not keep it more than a day or two because without stabilizers and other chemical junk, ice crystals will form, ruining the texture.