Aug 142016
 

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Today is Tisha B’Av  (lit. “the ninth of Av”) (תשעה באב‎‎ or ט׳ באב) according to the Jewish lunar calendar. As with all Jewish holy days it actually began yesterday at sundown and continues today until sundown. It is an annual fast day in Jewish religious and secular tradition which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the First Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Temple by the Romans. Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and is held to be a day which is destined for tragedy.

The observance of the day includes five prohibitions, most notable of which is a 25-hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem is read in the synagogue, followed by the recitation of kinnot, liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and Jerusalem. As the day has become associated with remembrance of other major calamities which have befallen the Jewish people, some kinnot also recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres in numerous medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades and The Holocaust.

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According to Rabbinic tradition (Mishnah Taanit 4:6), the sin of the Ten Spies inaugurated the annual fast day of Tisha B’Av. When the Israelites, wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt, accepted the false report from the spies that the land of Canaan would be impossible to conquer, the people wept over the false belief that God was setting them up for defeat. The night that the people cried was the ninth of Av, which became a day of weeping and misfortune for all time. The fast subsequently commemorated the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, both of which supposedly occurred on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, about 655 years apart.

Taanit 4:6 notes five specific events occurred on the ninth of Av that warrant fasting:

The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by God that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites’ lack of faith, God decreed that for all generations this date would become a day of crying and misfortune for their descendants. (See Numbers 13; Numbers 14).

The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC (Anno Mundi [AM] 3175) after a two-year siege and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile. According to the Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, the actual destruction of the First Temple began on the Ninth of Av and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.

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The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans in August 70 AD (AM 3830), scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land that continues to this day.

The Romans subsequently crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 500,000 Jewish civilians (approximately 580,000) on July 8, 132 CE (Av 9, AM 3892).

Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Roman commander Turnus Rufus ploughed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, in 135 CE.

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Over time, Tisha B’Av has come to be a general day of mourning, not only for these events, but also for later tragedies. Regardless of the exact dates of these events, for many Jews, Tisha B’Av is the designated day of mourning for them, and these themes are reflected in liturgy composed for this day.

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Other calamities associated with Tisha B’Av:

The episode of the Golden calf (17th of Tammuz) in which the Hebrews, after their exodus from Egypt, reintroduced idolatry as a form of spirituality.

The First Crusade officially commenced on August 15, 1096 (Av 24, AM 4856), killing 10,000 Jews in its first month and destroying Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.

The Jews were expelled from England on July 18, 1290 (Av 9, AM 5050).

The Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306 (Av 10, AM 5066).

The Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 (Av 7, AM 5252).[7]

Germany entered World War I on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9-10, AM 5674), which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.

On August 2, 1941 (Av 9, AM 5701), SS commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.” As a result, the Holocaust began during which almost one third of the world’s Jewish population perished.

On July 23, 1942 (Av 9, AM 5702) the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, en route to Treblinka.

Most religious communities use Tisha B’Av to mourn the approximately 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, including special kinnot composed for this purpose (see the main kinnot article) (in addition to, or instead of, the secular Holocaust Memorial Days.)

AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 and injuring 300 on 18 July 1994; 10 Av, AM 5754.

Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Western calendar. When Tisha B’Av falls on the Shabbat (Friday/Saturday) it is known as a nidche (“delayed”) in Hebrew and the observance of Tisha B’Av then takes place on the following day that is Saturday/Sunday. No outward signs of mourning intrude upon the normal Sabbath, although normal Sabbath eating and drinking end at sunset Saturday evening, rather than nightfall. The fast lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the preceding evening lasting until nightfall the next day. In addition to fasting, other pleasurable activities are also forbidden.

Tisha B’Av bears a similar stringent nature to that of Yom Kippur. In addition to the length of the fast which lasts about 25 hours, beginning at sunset on the eve of Tisha B’Av and ends at nightfall the following day, Tisha B’Av also shares the following five prohibitions:

No eating or drinking;

No washing or bathing;

No application of creams or oils;

No wearing of leather shoes;

No sexual relations.

Torah study is forbidden on Tisha B’Av (as it is considered a spiritually enjoyable activity), except for the study of distressing texts such as the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning.

According to the Rema it is customary to sit on low stools or on the floor, as is done during shiva, from the meal immediately before the fast, the seudah hamafseket, until midday (chatztot hayom). It is customary to eat a hard boiled egg, and a piece of bread dipped into ashes during this meal. The Beit Yosef rules that the custom to sit low to the ground extends until one prays Mincha (the afternoon prayer).

Although the fast ends at nightfall, according to tradition, the First Temple continued burning throughout the night and for most of the following day, the tenth of Av. It is therefore customary to refrain from eating meat, drinking wine, bathing, cutting hair, doing laundry, listening to music, making a shehechiyanu blessing until midday (chatzos) of the following day.

When Tisha B’Av begins on Saturday night (as this year – 2016), the Havdalah ritual at the end of Shabbat is truncated (using a candle but no spices), without a blessing over wine. After Tisha B’Av ends on Sunday evening, another Havdalah ceremony is performed with wine (without candle or spices).

Matzo balls are common in the Ashkenazi tradition and are suitable for meals before and after fasts. They are usually cooked and eaten in chicken broth, but you can observe the prohibition against meat by having them in vegetable broth (although I’m not fully sure whether the prohibition against meat applies to the broth of animal meat). You can buy matzo balls, of course, but they are much better if home made. It’s best to buy the matzo meal, but you can also make it by crushing matzo with a rolling pin or (better) using a food processor.

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Matzo Balls

Ingredients

2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup matzo meal
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp club soda (or plain water)

Instructions

Whisk the eggs well with the oil and salt in a mixing bowl.

Add the matzo meal and water, then mix thoroughly. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Shape the matzo mixture into small balls, and place them into the boiling water. Boil uncovered for 20 minutes.

Lift the matzo balls out of the water with a slotted spoon. If you want, at this point you can freeze the. They keep well and are generally lighter after being frozen.

Heat the matzo balls through in simmering broth when ready to serve. Do not boil them vigorously or they will break up.

Mar 292016
 

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The official opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall took place on this date in 1871. A welcoming speech was given by Edward, the Prince of Wales; Queen Victoria was too overcome to speak. At some point, the Queen remarked that the Hall reminded her of the British constitution. I haven’t the vaguest idea what she meant by this. There is no written British constitution. At best it can be described as a hodge-podge of statutes beginning with Magna Carta. Maybe the Hall is similar? (i.e. a mélange of all things British).

Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, London, best known for holding the Proms concerts annually each summer since 1941. It has a capacity (depending on configuration of the event) of up to 5,272 seats. The Hall is a registered charity held in trust for the nation and receives no public or government funding.

Since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on its stage and it has become one of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings. Each year it hosts more than 390 shows in the main auditorium, including classical, rock and pop concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestra, sports, award ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets. A further 400 events are held each year in the non-auditorium spaces. I’ve been to concerts there a few times, the first being a sort of hippie-fest featuring the Incredible String Band (look them up!!) in 1968.

The Hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall’s foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her late husband consort, Prince Albert who had died six years earlier. It forms the practical part of a national memorial to the Prince Consort – the decorative part is the Albert Memorial directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by the road Kensington Gore.

The Hall, a Grade I listed building, is an ellipse in plan, with major and minor axes of 83 m (272 ft) and 72 m (236 ft). The great glass and wrought-iron dome roofing the Hall is 41 m (135 ft) high. It was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people and has accommodated as many as 9,000 (although modern safety restrictions mean that the maximum permitted capacity is now 5,544 including standing in the Gallery).

Around the outside of the building is a great mosaic frieze, depicting “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”, in reference to the Hall’s dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are: (1) Various Countries of the World bringing in their Offerings to the Exhibition of 1851; (2) Music; (3) Sculpture; (4) Painting; (5) Princes, Art Patrons and Artists; (6) Workers in Stone; (7) Workers in Wood and Brick; (8) Architecture; (9) The Infancy of the Arts and Sciences; (10) Agriculture; (11) Horticulture and Land Surveying; (12) Astronomy and Navigation; (13) A Group of Philosophers, Sages and Students; (14) Engineering; (15) The Mechanical Powers; and (16) Pottery and Glassmaking.

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Above the frieze is an inscription in 12-inch-high (300 mm) terracotta letters that combines historical fact and Biblical quotations: “This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment of the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory be to God on high and on earth peace.”

A concert followed the opening by Victoria, when the Hall’s acoustic problems became immediately apparent. Engineers first attempted to solve the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concertgoers from the sun, but the problem was not solved: it used to be jokingly said that the Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice.” Nowadays there are hanging baffles to combat the echo.

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The BBC Promenade Concerts, known as “The Proms” are the most famous feature of the Hall.  In 1942, following the destruction of the Queen’s Hall in an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms. In 1944 with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. Following the end of World War II the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night.  Jiří Bělohlávek described The Proms as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival” of all such events in the world of classical music festivals.

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Proms (short for promenade concerts) is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as “Promenaders”, but are most commonly referred to as “Prommers.”

“Last Night” has become a national institution televised and celebrated worldwide. They were originally conducted by Proms founder, Sir Henry Wood, and then by Sir Malcolm Sargent (under whose baton I first heard them). Sargent was a wonderful master of ceremonies – hilariously grandiloquent. When Sir Colin Davis took over from Sargent in 1967 he tried to downplay the “Britishness” of the event, in particular by trying to exclude “Rule Britannia” as being overtly symbolic of British colonial tyranny. Well, it is, that is, if you treat it literally. Davis had to lighten up, though, at the outcry. Tradition won. The point is that there is a mocking tone to its rendition – especially these days – and is, at best, patriotic and not jingoistic. Here it is, to make my point:

And here’s “Jerusalem,” another Last Night fixture:

I don’t see any other choice than to give Mrs Beeton’s trifle recipe as a tribute to the Hall – both outrageous Victorian masterpieces. I love her description of adding the sherry and brandy which amounts to “add a bucket load” but using very prim tones. Every trifle I have ever made following this recipe has vanished in minutes, no matter how large I have made it.

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TO MAKE A TRIFLE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—For the whip, 1 pint of cream, 3 oz. of pounded sugar, the whites of 2 eggs, a small glass of sherry or raisin wine. For the trifle, 1 pint of custard, made with 8 eggs to a pint of milk; 6 small sponge-cakes, or 6 slices of sponge-cake; 12 macaroons, 2 dozen ratafias, 2 oz. of sweet almonds, the grated rind of 1 lemon, a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam, 1/2 pint of sherry or sweet wine, 6 tablespoonfuls of brandy.

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Mode.—The whip to lay over the top of the trifle should be made the day before it is required for table, as the flavour is better, and it is much more solid than when prepared the same day. Put into a large bowl the pounded sugar, the whites of the eggs, which should be beaten to a stiff froth, a glass of sherry or sweet wine, and the cream. Whisk these ingredients well in a cool place, and take off the froth with a skimmer as fast as it rises, and put it on a sieve to drain; continue the whisking till there is sufficient of the whip, which must be put away in a cool place to drain. The next day, place the sponge-cakes, macaroons, and ratafias at the bottom of a trifle-dish; pour over them 1/2 pint of sherry or sweet wine, mixed with 6 tablespoonfuls of brandy, and, should this proportion of wine not be found quite sufficient, add a little more, as the cakes should be well soaked. Over the cakes put the grated lemon-rind, the sweet almonds, blanched and cut into strips, and a layer of raspberry or strawberry jam. Make a good custard by recipe No. 1423, using 8 instead of 5 eggs to the pint of milk, and let this cool a little; then pour it over the cakes, &c. The whip being made the day previously, and the trifle prepared, there remains nothing to do now but heap the whip lightly over the top: this should stand as high as possible, and it may be garnished with strips of bright currant jelly, crystallized sweetmeats, or flowers; the small coloured comfits are sometimes used for the purpose of garnishing a trifle, but they are now considered rather old-fashioned.

Average cost, with cream at 1s. per pint, 5s. 6d.

Sufficient for 1 trifle. Seasonable at any time.

Nov 282013
 

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Today is the birthday (1757) of William Blake, English poet, painter and printmaker. Blake was largely unrecognized during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.  He was considered mad by some of his contemporaries because of his unorthodox views on religion and his, at times, wild imagery, but now is held in high regard for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterized as part of the Romantic movement, or Pre-Romantic because of the era in which he worked. But many historians consider his work to be unclassifiable – it’s just Blake. William Rossetti characterized him as a “glorious luminary” and “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors.” Blake was devoted to the Bible but actively hostile to all forms of organized Christianity, especially the Church of England. He was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions, though in later life he rejected many of these beliefs .

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William Blake was born 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St.) in Soho in London. He was the third of seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Blake’s father, James, was a hosier. He attended school only long enough to learn reading and writing, leaving at the age of ten, and was otherwise educated at home by his mother Catherine Wright Armitage Blake. The Blakes were dissenters, and are believed to have belonged to the Moravian Church. The Bible was an early and profound influence on Blake, and remained a source of inspiration throughout his life.

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Blake started engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father, a practice that he always preferred to drawing.  As a boy Blake was exposed to classical forms through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Marten Heemskerk and Albrecht Dürer. His father and mother were able to buy prints for him to study  and copy, and enrolled him in drawing classes rather than send him to school. He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During his boyhood Blake made explorations into poetry and his early work shows the influence of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, and the Psalms.

In 1772 (aged 14), Blake was apprenticed to engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, for the sum of £52.10, for a term of seven years. At the end of the term, aged 21, he became a professional engraver. Basire’s style of line-engraving was of a kind held at the time to be old-fashioned compared to the flashier stipple or mezzotint styles. It has been speculated that Blake’s instruction in this outmoded form may have been detrimental to his ability to find work or recognition.

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In 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the Strand. While the terms of his study required no payment, he was expected to supply his own materials throughout the six-year period. There, he rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school’s first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds’ attitude towards art, especially his pursuit of “general truth” and “general beauty.” Reynolds wrote in his Discourses that the “disposition to abstractions, to generalising and classification, is the great glory of the human mind.” Blake responded, in marginalia to his personal copy, that “To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” Blake also disliked Reynolds’ apparent humility, which he held to be a form of hypocrisy. Against Reynolds’ fashionable oil painting, Blake preferred the Classical precision of his early influences, Michelangelo and Raphael.

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Blake’s first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, records that in June 1780 Blake was walking towards Basire’s shop in Great Queen Street when he was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed Newgate Prison. The mob attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, set the building ablaze, and released the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the front rank of the mob during the attack. The riots, in response to a parliamentary bill revoking sanctions against Roman Catholicism, became known as the Gordon Riots and provoked a flurry of legislation from the government of George III, and the creation of the first police force. Although some historians believe Blake was forced to accompany the crowd, others have argued that he accompanied it impulsively, or supported it as a revolutionary act.

Blake met Catherine Boucher in 1782 when he was recovering from a relationship that had culminated in a refusal of his marriage proposal. He recounted the story of his heartbreak for Catherine and her parents, after which he asked Catherine, “Do you pity me?” When she responded affirmatively, he declared, “Then I love you.” Blake married Catherine  on 18 August 1782 in St. Mary’s Church, Battersea. Catherine was illiterate and so signed her wedding contract with an X. The original wedding certificate may be viewed at the church, where a commemorative stained-glass window was installed between 1976 and 1982. Later, in addition to teaching Catherine to read and write, Blake trained her as an engraver. Throughout his life she proved an invaluable aid, helping to print his illuminated works and maintaining his spirits throughout numerous misfortunes.

Blake’s first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed around 1783. After his father’s death, Blake and former fellow apprentice James Parker opened a print shop in 1784, and began working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson.  Johnson’s house was a meeting-place for leading English intellectual dissidents of the time: theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley, philosopher Richard Price, artist John Henry Fuseli, early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine. Along with William Wordsworth and William Godwin, Blake had great hopes for the French and American revolutions and wore a Phrygian cap in solidarity with the French revolutionaries, but despaired with the rise of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in France. In 1784 Blake composed his unfinished manuscript An Island in the Moon.

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Blake illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (1788; 1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft. They seem to have shared some views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage. In Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love, and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfillment.

In 1788, aged 31, Blake experimented with relief etching, a method he used to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets, and poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and the finished products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid to dissolve the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the name). Blake used illuminated printing for most of his well-known works, including Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.

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In 1800, Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham, in Sussex (now West Sussex), to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley, a minor poet.

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It was in this cottage that Blake began Milton a Poem (the title page is dated 1804, but Blake continued to work on it until 1808). The preface to this work includes a poem beginning “And did those feet in ancient time,” which became the words for the anthem “Jerusalem.” “Jerusalem” has always been a favorite in England.  Here it is from the last night at the proms:

Blake returned to London in 1804 and began to write and illustrate “Jerusalem” (1804–1820), his most ambitious work. Having conceived the idea of portraying the characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Blake approached the dealer Robert Cromek, with a view to marketing an engraving. Knowing Blake was too eccentric to produce a popular work, Cromek promptly commissioned Blake’s friend Thomas Stothard to execute the concept. When Blake learned he had been cheated, he broke off contact with Stothard. He set up an independent exhibition in his brother’s haberdashery shop at 27 Broad Street in Soho. The exhibition was designed to market his own version, titled The Canterbury Pilgrims, along with other works. As a result, he wrote his Descriptive Catalogue (1809), which contains what Anthony Blunt called a “brilliant analysis” of Chaucer and is regularly anthologized as a classic of Chaucer criticism. It also contained detailed explanations of his other paintings. The exhibition was very poorly attended, selling none of the temperas or watercolors. Its only review, in The Examiner, was hostile.

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In 1818 he was introduced by George Cumberland’s son to a young artist, John Linnell. Through Linnell he met Samuel Palmer, who belonged to a group of artists who called themselves the Shoreham Ancients. The group shared Blake’s rejection of modern trends and his belief in a spiritual and artistic New Age. Aged 65, Blake began work on illustrations for the Book of Job, later admired by Ruskin, who compared Blake favorably to Rembrandt, and by Vaughan Williams, who based his ballet “Job: A Masque for Dancing” on a selection of the illustrations.

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The commission for Dante’s Divine Comedy came to Blake in 1826 through Linnell, with the aim of producing a series of engravings. Blake’s death in 1827 cut short the enterprise, and only a handful of watercolors were completed, with only seven of the engravings arriving at proof form. Blake’s illustrations of the poem are not merely accompanying works, but rather seem to critically revise, or furnish commentary on, certain spiritual or moral aspects of the text.

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Because the project was never completed, Blake’s intent may be obscured. Some indicators bolster the impression that Blake’s illustrations in their totality would take issue with the text they accompany: In the margin of “Homer Bearing the Sword and His Companions,” Blake notes, “Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost.” Blake seems to dissent from Dante’s admiration of the poetic works of ancient Greece, and from the apparent glee with which Dante allots punishments in Hell (as evidenced by the grim humor of the cantos).

At the same time, Blake shared Dante’s distrust of materialism and the corruptive nature of power, and clearly relished the opportunity to represent the atmosphere and imagery of Dante’s work pictorially. Even as he seemed to near death, Blake’s central preoccupation was his feverish work on the illustrations to Dante’s Inferno; he is said to have spent one of the very last shillings he possessed on a pencil to continue sketching.

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On the day of his death, Blake worked relentlessly on his Dante series. Eventually, it is reported, he ceased working and turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried, “Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me.” Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses. At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, Blake died. Gilchrist reports that a female lodger in the house, present at his death, said, “I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel.”

In celebration of Blake I must print, “The Tyger,” long a favorite of mine and clearly indicative of his spiritual vision:

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

For a dish to commemorate Blake I have chosen a recipe from A Complete System of Cookery by William Verral, Master of the White-Hart in Lewes, Sussex, published the year after Blake was born, and originating not far from where he lived in Sussex.  Follow the link for the complete text of the book. Water Souchy is a fish soup probably adapted from a Flemish dish, Waterzooi. Its name derives from the Dutch term “zooien” meaning “to boil.” It is sometimes called Gentse Waterzooi which refers to the Belgian town of Ghent where it originated. The original dish is often made of fish, either freshwater or sea, (known as Viszooitje), though today chicken waterzooi (Kippenwaterzooi) is more common. All versions are based on an soup-base of egg yolk, cream and thickened vegetable broth. The stew itself contains fish or chicken, vegetables including carrots, onions, celeriac, leeks, potatoes and herbs such as parsley, thyme, bay-leaves and sage.

Verral’s dish is rather bland in comparison, but it contains parsley root, a much overlooked ingredient which I would like to highlight.  When you can find it, it comes with parsley attached, and makes a wonderful side dish for fish or poultry, sliced and poached, and served in a cream sauce made from the poaching water and chopped parsley tops (or simply buttered).

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Here is the original recipe. It is easy to follow.

Water Souchy

This is rather a Dutch dish, and for change no bad one. To make this in perfection you should have several sorts of small fish, flounders, gudgeons, eels, perch, and a pike or two; but it is often with perch only; they ought to be very fresh; take care all is very clean, for what they are boil’d in is the soup: cut little notches in all, and put them a little while in fresh spring water; (this is what is called crimping of fish in London); put them into a stewpan with as much water as you think will fill your dish, half a pint of white wine, a spoonful or two of vinegar, and as much salt as you would for broth. Put them over your fire in cold water, and take particular care you skim it well in boiling; provide some parsley roots cut in slices and boiled very tender, and a large quantity of leaves of parsley boiled nice and green. When your fish have boiled gently for a quarter of an hour take them from the fire and put in your roots, and when you serve it to table strew your leaves over it; take care not to break your fish and pour your liquor on softly and hot; some plates of bread and butter are generally served up with this, so be sure to have them ready.

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I followed the recipe, but with quite a few changes. I’ll be building a snowman in Hades before I will find parsley root in Buenos Aires. I used mushrooms just to add some variety.  I also think it is better to poach the root and parsley directly in the broth, rather than separately, as Verral suggests.  Otherwise the broth is likely to be weak. I used a ton of parsley.  I also used lime juice in place of vinegar because in most dishes I prefer citrus juices to vinegar (including vinaigrette).  I suppose I could have used Japanese rice wine vinegar, which I quite like. I served additional lime wedges on the side for extra flavor, along with the bread and butter. Verral’s instructions imply he used whole fish; I used fillets and so did not worry about all the pre-cleaning.  The Flemish dish originally used either saltwater or river fish; Verral’s list is mostly river fish.  I used halibut because river fish is popular only in the northern provinces of Argentina.  All in all it proved to be a flavorful dish, which I will try again.