Jul 172018
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Kenelm (or Cynehelm), an Anglo-Saxon saint, venerated throughout medieval England. William of Malmesbury, writing in the 12th century, says that “there was no place in England to which more pilgrims travelled than to Winchcombe on Kenelm’s feast day.” In legend, St Kenelm was a member of the royal family of Mercia, a boy king and martyr, murdered by an ambitious relative despite receiving a prophetic dream warning him of the danger. His body, after being concealed, was discovered by miraculous intervention, and transported by the monks of Winchcombe to a major shrine. It remained there for several hundred years, and rivalled Canterbury as a site of pilgrimage in some quarters.

The two locales most closely linked with the legend of St Kenelm are the Clent Hills, south of Birmingham, site of his murder, and Winchcombe, near Cheltenham. The small church of St Kenelm, dating from the 12th century in a village called Kenelstowe, now stands with a handful of houses within the larger village of Romsley in the Clent Hills. For many years, villagers celebrated St Kenelm’s Day with a village fair and the custom (described by antiquarians as “ancient”) of “crabbing the parson” – bombarding him with a volley of crab apples.

The earliest account of St Kenelm’s legend is in a manuscript from the 12th century at Winchcombe Abbey, which claims to be derived from an account given by a Worcester monk named Wilfin. Other accounts in chronicles are evidently derived from the same source. The story told by that manuscript is as follows:

In 819, Coenwulf of Mercia died leaving two daughters, Quendryda and Burgenhilda, and a son, a child of seven years old, named Kenelm who was chosen to succeed him. Quendryda envied her little brother and thought that, if he were killed, she might reign as Queen. She therefore conspired with her lover, Askobert, her brother’s tutor and guardian, and gave him money, saying, ‘Slay my brother for me, that I may reign’. In the Forests of Worcestershire, on a hunting trip, the opportunity arose.

The night before the hunting trip, Kenelm had a dream in which he climbed a large tree decorated with flowers and lanterns. From on high, he saw all four quarters of his kingdom. Three bowed down before him, but the fourth began to chop away at the tree until it fell. Then Kenelm transformed into a white bird and flew away to safety. On waking, the young king related his dream to his nanny, a wise old woman skilled in interpreting dreams. She wept, for she knew that the boy was destined to die.

In the middle of the hunt’s first day, young Kenelm, tired and hot, decided to lie down beneath a tree to rest. Askobert began to dig a grave, in preparation for the murder, but the boy suddenly awoke and admonished him, ‘You think to kill me here in vain, for I shall be slain in another spot. In token, thereof, see this rod blossom’. As he thrust his stick into the ground, it instantly took root and began to flower. It grew, in years after, to be a great ash tree, which was known as St Kenelm’s Ash. Unperturbed by this turn of events, Askobert took the little king up to the Clent Hills, and as the child began to sing the Te Deum, the assassin smote his head clean off and buried him where he fell.

Kenelm’s soul rose in the form of a dove carrying a scroll, and flew away to Rome where it dropped the scroll at the feet of the Pope. The message on the scroll read: ‘Low in a mead of kine under a thorn, of head bereft, lieth poor Kenelm king-born’.

Accordingly, the Pope wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who commissioned a party from the Mercian capital, Winchcombe, to seek the body. As they walked, they saw a pillar of light shining over a thicket in Worcestershire and beneath it the body of Kenelm. As it was taken up, a rushing fountain burst out of the ground, and flowed away into a stream, which brought health to anyone who drank from it. The body was then solemnly carried towards Winchcombe, but at the ford called Pyriford over the River Avon, the burial party was met by an armed band from Worcester Abbey who also claimed title to the remains. The dispute was settled as follows: whichever party woke first on the following morning could take the prize. This proved to be the monks from Winchcombe. Despite their agreement, however, they were closely pursued by the Worcester party. Exhausted from their rapid march, they stopped just within sight of Winchcombe Abbey. As they struck their staffs into the ground, a spring burst forth, and this refreshed them so that they were able to press on to the Royal Mercian Abbey at Winchcombe, where the bells sounded and rang without the hand of man.

Then Quendryda asked what all this ringing meant and was told how her brother’s body was brought in procession into the abbey. ‘If that be true,’ said she, ‘may both my eyes fall upon this book’, and then both her eyes fell out of her head upon the Psalter she was reading. Soon after, both she and her lover died wretchedly, and their bodies were cast out into a ditch. The remains of Saint Kenelm were buried with all honor.

17th July is marked as the date of his translation to Winchcombe.

The legend of Saint Kenelm is included in a medieval collection of saints’ lives in Middle English known as the South English Legendary, compiled during the 13th and 14th centuries. It tells a similar story to the one in the Winchcombe Abbey MS, with the following addition:

After the murder and secret burial of Saint Kenelm in the Clent Hills, a cow came and miraculously sat at Kenelm’s grave, eating nothing all day and returning each night with her udders full. Quendryda had forbidden her murdered brother’s name ever to be spoken, and as the memory of him faded, God caused this cow to sit there so that his memory would not disappear entirely. Everybody in the district grew to learn of this cow’s strange behaviour, the animal was closely observed, seen to sit by a thorn tree and eat nothing all day but to be miraculously full of milk in the evening and again in the morning, and this went on for many years. The valley came to be known as Cowbach. Then one day, a white dove flew down into the Pope’s chapel in Rome carrying a message that Saint Kenelm’s body lay in a place called Cowbach, in the Clent Hills. Word was dispatched to Archbishop Wilfred of Canterbury, and a party was sent into Worcestershire, where the local population were able to guess immediately where the body lay, because of the cow. When his body was disinterred, a spring miraculously appeared where Saint Kenelm had lain.

The rest follows the Winchcombe version.

Like many medieval hagiographies, St Kenelm’s legend appears to bear little relation to any known facts. It can be ascertained from the wider historical record that, on the death of Offa of Mercia, his son Ecgfrith of Mercia was crowned but his reign lasted only 20 weeks and he was presumably killed in battle. He was succeeded by a distant cousin, Coenwulf of Mercia, whose son was Kenelm (Cynehelm), and this would appear to be the reputed saint. It is likely that Coenwulf ‘hallowed’ Kenelm to the throne, as attested by a letter dated 798, allegedly from Pope Leo III to “king Kenelm.” The letter names Kenelm and gives his age as 12. In 799, Kenelm witnessed a deed of gift of land to Christ Church, Canterbury, and from 803 onwards his name appears on a variety of charters. The year 811 sees no more mention of Kenelm, so this was likely his death year. This all points to Kenelm being 25 years old when he died, not a mere child of 7 years old. Historical records also indicate that Kenelm’s sister, Cwenthryth (Quendryda), had entered the cloister at the time of her father’s death and was the abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.

In literature, St Kenelm is alluded to in Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and his tale is told in one of William Shenstone’s elegies. Francis Brett Young wrote a long poem called The Ballad of St Kenelm, AD 821 and Geoffrey Hill makes direct mention of St Kenelm and Romsley, Worcestershire, in his book-length poem, The Triumph of Love.

A long-distance walk called St Kenelm’s Trail links Clent and Winchcombe across the English countryside of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. John Henry Newman made frequent pilgrimages along this walk to the shrine of St Kenelm’s martyrdom. The walk up the Clent Hills is locally famous, and I clambered around them about 12 years ago on a morris dancing tour of the region. The views from the peaks are splendid.

When you think of Worcestershire you probably think of Worcestershire sauce. Lee and Perrins is the classic, and I always have a bottle on hand for my cooking. The recipe is a deeply held secret, of course, but it is possible to make something similar at home if you wish. Here is one possible ingredient list:

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp English mustard powder
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the ingredients in a bottle and shake well. You can leave it in a cool place for several days to let the flavors marry. You can also experiment with quantities and other ingredients. Some powdered cloves and/or allspice would go well.

My favorite recipe from Gloucestershire is squab pie, which I gave here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/concertina-man/  Gloucestershire squab pie is a version of shepherd’s pie made with leftover lamb: no squab. Second to squab pie are Gloucester pancakes, which are a kind of fried suet cake. I think they would be suitable for an Anglo-Saxon boy-king, because they are made from good, old-fashioned English ingredients. Otherwise, Anglo-Saxon recipes are hard to come by. There is nothing in this recipe that a Mercian could not have done.

Gloucester Pancakes

Ingredients

6oz flour
3oz shredded suet
1 egg, beaten
salt
1 tsp baking powder
milk
lard
syrup or honey

Instructions

Sift together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt, then rub in the suet.  Add the egg and enough milk to make a stiff suet dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface so that it is about ½” thick and cut out rounds using a plain, round 2 inch cutter, or a cup.

Melt a few tablespoons of lard in a skillet over medium heat and fry the pancakes until they are golden brown on both sides.

Drain the pancakes on wire racks and serve them hot with syrup or honey.

Yield: 12 (approx.)

Apr 292017
 

Coincidence Day again. Today is the birthday of Lonnie Donegan (1931), Rod McKuen (1933), and  Willie Nelson (1933). Now . . . let me say at the outset that I am not really a fan of any of them, but they all made waves in their own way, and each represents a strand of music that was popular in certain circles at one time or another.  I’ll go in chronological order, and apologize at the outset for brevity.

Lonnie Donegan, born Anthony James Donegan, is the only one of the three who I have listened to more than casually over the years, not because I like his music, but because there was a time in my life when the radio was relentless, playing “My Old Man’s a Dustman” or “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?)” over and over and over. The most important thing to remember about Donegan is that he virtually single handedly created a skiffle style based on recordings from the US, gave the style a (slightly) British flavor, and popularized it to the extent that tens of thousands of British teens wanted to play it. Out of this fad grew the British pop scene of the 1960s. Donegan was the lynch pin of a musical revolution.

Donegan started his musical career as a guitarist and banjo player for jazz bands in his teens. While in Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen, Donegan sang and played guitar and banjo in their Dixieland set. He began playing with two other band members during the intervals, to provide what posters called a “skiffle” break, a name suggested by Ken Colyer’s brother, Bill, taking the name from the Dan Burley Skiffle Group of the 1930s from the US (American skiffle was an obscure form of country blues). With accompanying music produced by a washboard, tea-chest bass, and a cheap Spanish guitar, Donegan sang classic songs by artists such as Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. This music proved popular and in July 1954 he recorded a fast version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line,” featuring a washboard but not a tea-chest bass, with “John Henry” on the B-side. The 1954 version was released as a Ken Colyer Jazzmen record, and Donegan got nothing for it but his session fee. So he released it again in 1956 under his own name. It proved to be a colossal hit. It was the first debut record to go gold in the UK, and it reached the Top Ten in the US.

It was the success of this single and the lack of the need for expensive instruments or high levels of musicianship that set off the British skiffle craze. There were a few bands that enjoyed chart success in the skiffle craze but Donegan remained the king of skiffle. The main impact of skiffle was as a grassroots, amateur movement, particularly popular among working class teens, who could buy or make cheap instruments and use their music to rebel against the drab austerity of post-war Britain.

It has been estimated that in the late 1950s, there were between 30,000–50,000 skiffle groups in Britain. A great many British musicians began their careers playing skiffle in this period, some becoming leading figures in their respective fields. How about Van Morrison, Alexis Korner, Mick Jagger, Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, Ashley Hutchings, Roger Daltrey, Graham Nash and Allan Clarke to hit the tip of the iceberg? The Beatles developed  directly out of John Lennon’s skiffle group the Quarrymen. Here’s a bootleg recording of the Quarrymen singing a cover of Donegan’s “Putting on the Style” on the day in 1957 when Lennon met Paul McCartney. It was #1 on the English charts at the time.

The Beatles still retained elements of skiffle when they first burst on the scene in 1962. I don’t believe that Donegan is ever given enough credit for the revolution he started.

At completely the opposite end of the spectrum is Rod McKuen who, despite being one of the best-selling poets in the United States during the late 1960s, has had zero influence on music and poetry as far as I can tell. There is a simple reason for this: it is worthless. How he became so popular is a complete mystery to me. Here is an early live version of “Seasons in the Sun” from the 1960s. It is a translation of the Jacques Brel song, “Le Moribond”.

“Seasons in the Sun” is probably McKuen’s best known song, and it has been covered innumerable times. I have no idea why. I’m sure it works well enough in French for a Belgian audience. When I lived for a while in France in 1966 I heard no end of this kind of stuff, and watched movies in the same vein. I suppose it’s cultural.

I’ll give McKuen enormous credit for making a success out of a life with disastrous beginnings. He was born in a Salvation Army hostel in Oakland, California and never knew his biological father who left his mother before he was born. He was sexually and physically abused by relatives, and raised by his mother and stepfather, who was a violent alcoholic. McKuen ran away from home at the age of 11 and drifted along the West Coast, supporting himself as a ranch hand, surveyor, railroad worker, lumberjack, rodeo cowboy, stuntman, and radio disk jockey.

To compensate for his lack of formal education, McKuen began keeping a journal, which resulted in his first poetry and song lyrics. After dropping out of Oakland Technical High School prior to graduating in 1951, McKuen worked as a newspaper columnist and propaganda script writer during the Korean War. He settled in San Francisco, where he read his poetry in clubs alongside Beat poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He began performing as a folk singer at the famed Purple Onion, and over time, he began incorporating his own songs into his act. He was signed to Decca Records and released several pop albums in the late 1950s. McKuen also appeared as an actor in Rock, Pretty Baby (1956), Summer Love (1958), and the western Wild Heritage (1958). He also sang with Lionel Hampton’s band. In 1959, McKuen moved to New York City to compose and conduct music for the TV show The CBS Workshop.

In the early 1960s, McKuen moved to France, where he first met the Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel. McKuen began to translate Brel’s work into English, which led to the song “If You Go Away” – an international pop-standard – based on Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas.” In 1978, after hearing of Brel’s death, McKuen was quoted as saying,

As friends and as musical collaborators we had traveled, toured and written – together and apart – the events of our lives as if they were songs, and I guess they were. When news of Jacques’ death came I stayed locked in my bedroom and drank for a week. That kind of self-pity was something he wouldn’t have approved of, but all I could do was replay our songs (our children) and ruminate over our unfinished life together.

In the late 1960s, McKuen began to publish books of poetry, earning a substantial following among young people with collections like Stanyan Street & Other Sorrows (1966), Listen to the Warm (1967), and Lonesome Cities (1968). His Lonesome Cities album of readings won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording in 1968. McKuen’s poems were translated into eleven languages and his books sold over 1 million copies in 1968 alone. McKuen said that his most romantic poetry was influenced by American poet Walter Benton. McKuen has sold over 60 million books and his song titles have sold over 100 million records. I cannot fathom why. The best I can make out is that his poetry and lyrics are simple and sentimental, and this appeals to a segment of the population. I am fully in accord with Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Julia Keller when she wrote that his work “drives many people crazy. They find it silly and mawkish, the kind of gooey schmaltz that wouldn’t pass muster in a freshman creative-writing class”

The third of our trio, Willie Nelson, is the only one still alive. I’d say he sits somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of musical impact: not minor, not huge. He started out as a fairly conventional Country singer-songwriter, but over the years has become rather eclectic, but always with a Country bent.  He was born and grew up in Texas, left to be raised by his grandparents after his mother and father left with other partners. His grandparents taught him some music and bought him a guitar when he was 6, and with his sister Bobbie, he sang gospel songs in the local church. He wrote his first song at age 7, and when he was 9, played guitar for the local band Bohemian Polka. During the summers, the family picked cotton but Nelson disliked the job, so he earned money by singing in dance halls, taverns, and honky-tonks from age 13, and continuing through high school.

After high school Nelson bounced around for a while, and in 1956, went from Fort Worth, Texas first to Portland, Oregon, and then on to Vancouver, Washington, where he found a job on KVAN hosting the show The Western Express, and became popular locally, while still doing live performances. During this time he started writing “Family Bible”. His inspiration for the song came from his grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Smothers, who would sing “Rock of Ages” and read from the Bible after supper. Nelson played the demo of the song that he had recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine for Mae Boren Axton after interviewing her on the show. Impressed by his songwriting, Axton recommended that he go to Nashville and dedicate himself to songwriting full-time. Nelson quit the job at the radio station after being denied a raise in 1957, moving first to Houston and then on to Nashville, joining a long line of aspiring singer-songwriters.

In Houston he sold the rights to “Family Bible” for some quick cash, and it was recorded by Claude Gray in 1959 and released in 1960. It was a modest hit, and, even though Nelson was not credited as the writer, its success persuaded him to move to Nashville, where the song gained him some attention.

Through the first half of the 1960s Nelson had only modest successes. Then he signed with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ol’ Opry. Although a step up, and his records consistently registered in the Top 25, they always lingered in the low 20s. By 1972 his ranch had burnt down, he had divorced his second wife, and RCA Victor was complaining about the lack of real hits from his records. So he decided to quit the music business and start over. He moved to Austin, Texas, where the burgeoning hippie music scene revived his interest as a singer. His popularity in Austin soared as he played his own brand of country music marked by country, folk and jazz influences. He was transforming into the hippie cowboy.

Nelson signed Neil Reshen as his manager to negotiate with RCA, who got the label to agree to end his contract upon repayment of US$14,000. Reshen eventually signed Nelson to Atlantic Records for $25,000 per year, where he became the label’s first country artist. He formed his backing band, The Family, and by February 1973, he was recording his acclaimed Shotgun Willie at Atlantic Studios in New York City. Shotgun Willie was released in May 1973 and earned excellent reviews. But it did not sell well. The album led Nelson to a new style and he later stated that Shotgun Willie had “cleared his throat”. His next release, Phases and Stages, released in 1974, was a concept album about a couple’s divorce, inspired by his own experience. Side one of the record is from the viewpoint of the woman, and side two is from the viewpoint of the man. The album included the hit single “Bloody Mary Morning.” The same year, he produced and starred in the pilot episode of PBS’s Austin City Limits. From that point on emerged the “Outlaw Country” Willie Nelson we now know.

This trio of singers does not exactly inspire me in the kitchen, not least because their musical ranges and geographic backgrounds are so diverse. The only thing that really ties them together is that they were all making a mark in the early 1960s. Most of what I remember of early 60s party food is rather wretched – cubes of cheese or salami on toothpicks, shrimp cocktail, and the like.  I’ll go with Chicken à la King since it was very popular at the time, and is not desperate. It’s a common standby if you have leftover chicken. It was actually invented some time in the 1880s, and recipes were available in standard cookbooks in the early 20th century. But it became a defining dish in the 1960s. It’s really quick to make. This recipe is my modification from Betty Crocker – which seems appropriate. A cover of a 1960s classic, if you will.

Chicken à la King

Ingredients

3 ½ oz butter
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
3 oz mushrooms, sliced
½ cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
1 ½ cups light cream
1 ½ cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
3 oz cooked peas
scallions, sliced (for garnish)

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the bell pepper and mushrooms. Sauté until they have softened a little.  Add the flour and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to blend the flour with the butter and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the broth and cream, whisking to make sure that the flour is combined with the liquids. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Add the chicken and peas, and heat through. Serve over noodles or plain boiled rice, garnished with scallions.

 

 

 

Aug 262016
 

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Today is the Roman Catholic feast of Melchizedek, a shadowy and obscure king mentioned in the Hebrew Bible whose tale has subsequently been elaborated upon in all kinds of mystical and quasi-historical literature, almost entirely because of his name (and his association with bread and wine).

Melchizedek , Melkisetek, or Malki Tzedek (Hebrew: מלכי־צדק; Amharic: መልከ ጼዴቅ malkī-ṣeḏeq; Armenian: Մելքիսեդեք, Melkisetek), is mentioned in Genesis 14 as the king of Salem and a priest of El Elyon (“God most high”) who brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram (later Abraham) and El Elyon.

In Chazalic literature – specifically Targum Jonathan, Targum Yerushalmi, and the Babylonian Talmud – the name מלכי־צדק is given as a nickname title for Shem, the son of Noah, and ancestor of Middle Eastern peoples, thus predating Abraham as an ancestor.

In Christianity, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus as Christ is identified as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek,” that is, a Jewish High Priest.

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I will spare you all of the endless conjectures about who Melchizedek was, but I am a little bit fascinated by some linguistic riddles associated with him. These all stem from the fact that ancient Hebrew was written almost entirely without vowels. There are characters for long /i/ and long /o/ but the rest you have to fill in yourself. Most of the time the text is clear without vowels, but you can make mistakes, and some words are deliberately ambiguous. Go here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-translation-dayst-jerome/ for an explanation of why Greek translations of the Hebrew Torah mistakenly assert that Moses had horns.

The name Melchizedek in Hebrew is made of the two elements melek “king” and ṣedeq “righteous(ness).” With the addition of the enclitic possessive pronoun (-ī), malk-ī means “my king” so that the name literally translates as “my king is righteous(ness)” (or it could also be “my king is Ṣedeq” where “Ṣedeq” is a proper noun). For the moment let’s just say that Melchizedek was the guy’s name. Unfortunately the text explaining where he was from does not make things easier. He is called king of Salem, but the place is written as שלם (s-l-m) which you can read in all manner of ways by adding different vowels – Salem or Salim, for example. Things are further complicated by the fact that the letter ש can be pronounced /s/ or /sh/, so the word could be pronounced “shalom,” which means “peace.” Thus, the text could be saying that Melchizedek was the king of peace, not of a place.

I can read ancient Hebrew well enough, but my competence stops short of historical linguistics, and I can’t contribute anything original to philological debates. Nonetheless, I can provide a few conjectures. My typically matter-of-fact Biblical exegesis leads me to say that the Melchizedek episode in Genesis comes from an ancient oral tradition, and the redactors of Genesis had a reason to include it. But we don’t now know what that reason was, and speculation (while typically Rabbinic) is a waste of time – unless you have a lot of time on your hands. Genesis is made up of all manner of source materials from different eras and places cobbled together to form a book, and scholars have spent decades sifting through, and sorting out the different strands. My own analysis of Genesis (in a forthcoming book, The Genesis Option), avoids that way of looking at the book. Source criticism is not my drug of choice.

Where this place called s-l-m, that was Melchizedek’s kingdom, is located, if it is a place at all, is a puzzle. There is no ancient site in the Middle East that we know of called Salem. Genesis 33:18, might give us a clue, though:

And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.

The ancient town of Salim is normally taken to be this location. It is mentioned in the Gospel of John 3:23:

And John also was baptizing in Ænon near to Salim [Σαλείμ], because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

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In 1517, Salim was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire with the rest of Palestine. In 1596, it appeared in Ottoman tax registers as being in the Nahiya of Jabal Qubal of the Liwa of Nablus. It had a population of 42 households, all Muslim. The villagers paid taxes on wheat, barley, summer crops, olives, and goats or beehives, and a press for olives or grapes.

French explorer Victor Guérin came to the village in May 1870, after walking through fields of olives, figs and almond trees. He found a village 200 people, in ancient houses. A dozen cisterns in the village were dry, so the women had to fetch water from a stream, called Ain Salim, about 1 km NNW of the village. In 1882, the Palestine Exploration Fund’s Survey of Western Palestine described Salim as a small village, but evidently ancient, surrounded by olive-trees and with two springs to the north.

Archeology dates Salim to the Middle Bronze Age (the time classically associated with Abraham), and shows that it was originally a Canaanite village later taken over by Israelites. It doesn’t seem to have ever had much historical significance, however.

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If you want to sift through the mountains of mystical and magical speculations about Melchizedek, knock yourself out. You’re on your own. Clearly the image of his gifts of bread and wine to Abraham suggested to early Christian authors that the narrative was a prefigurement of the Last Supper, and ultimately the Eucharist (holy communion). I’m going to leave that alone too. But a gift of food and drink does lead to some thoughts about cooking.

I have given a fair number of recipes here already from the ancient region of Israel and Palestine. You’ve got lots to pick from with lentils, wine, olive oil, and goat meat. I’ll focus on figs today. The fig tree is the third tree to be mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible. The first is the Tree of life and the second is the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (NOT an apple tree). Then Adam and Eve used the leaves of the fig tree to sew garments for themselves after the Fall, when they realized that they were naked (Genesis 3:7).

In Deuteronomy, the Promised Land is described as “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything;” (Deuteronomy 8:8-10). During Solomon’s reign Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man “under his own vine and fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25), an indicator of national wealth and prosperity. 2 Kings 18 states that Hezekiah rebelled against the King of Assyria, of whom he had become a vassal. In response, the Assyrian commander attempted to sway the army of Jerusalem by offering deserters each his own vine and fig tree.

Figs are in full season here in Mantua, and I’ve been doing a lot with them, raw and cooked. Here is an image of one of my recent impromptu ideas, figs and cheese on bread as an open-faced sandwich.

DSC_0473

To be more authentically Middle Eastern you’ll need to use goat or ewe’s cheese and flat bread, but I’m sure you can figure it out. The sweetness of the figs and the slight sourness of goat cheese make a great combination, especially added to the earthiness of whole wheat.

Jan 052015
 

twelfth9

Twelfth Night is an old festival, in some Christian cultures (chiefly in Europe), more or less obsolete now, marking the coming of the Epiphany (6 January). It had its heyday from Regency to Victorian times in England. Different traditions mark the date of Twelfth Night on either 5th January or 6th January. The Church of England, Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, celebrates Twelfth Night on the ­­­­5th calling it the equivalent of the eve of Epiphany. In Western Church traditions the Twelfth Night concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas, although in others the Twelfth Night can precede the Twelfth Day. Generally speaking it’s a question of how you count the Twelve Days. In 567 the Council of Trent established the liturgical season of Christmas as lasting from Christmas Day to Epiphany, so many people assume that Epiphany is Twelfth Night. This cannot be correct unless you make 26 December the 1st day of Christmas. To put it bluntly, this is absurd. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas, so 5th January is the 12th day, and Epiphany comes next (see tomorrow’s post). In fact they are two quite distinct festivals although over time cultures have muddled them up. Nowadays if households celebrate the end of the Christmas season at all they do so on Epiphany and not Twelfth Night – hence the muddling of traditions. But a few communities have revived old customs although they have been modernized considerably. In London, for example, in several boroughs there are big parades, but they incorporate folk customs, such as morris dancing, that have nothing to do with Christmas.

A belief has arisen in more modern times, in some English-speaking countries, that it is unlucky to leave Christmas decorations hanging after Twelfth Night, a tradition originally attached to the festival of Candlemas (2 February) which was once the official end of the Christmas season. They took all the decorations down in my hostel today.

In medieval and Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve (Halloween). Usually it had an element of social inversion, in which the people of high social class adopted a low status and vice versa. Such customs generally disappeared around the time of the Industrial Revolution when they were conceived of as a threat to social order. Historically on Twelfth Night some method would be chosen to elect a Twelfth King. Commonly it was by drawing cards from a special deck which assigned various roles to guests – including king. The king ruled the feast until midnight and could order tomfoolery. In Regency and Victorian times the role was assigned by eating a cake that contained a bean and a pea. The cake was eaten at the start of the meal, and who got the bean was king and who got the pea was queen. There is reasonable evidence that such “elections” were rigged.

The major point of Twelfth Night is to go out of Christmas with a bang, so food and drink are central. Like Christmas, Twelfth Night gatherings tend to be home party affairs (with guests).

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In colonial America, a Christmas wreath was always left up on the front door of each home, and when taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, any edible portions would be eaten with the other foods of the feast. The same held true in the 19th and early 20th centuries with fruits adorning Christmas trees. Fresh fruits were hard to come by, and were therefore considered fine and proper gifts and decorations for the tree, wreaths, and home. Again, the tree would be taken down on Twelfth Night, and such fruits, along with nuts and other local produce used, would then be eaten.

In families who still celebrate Twelfth Night, all the remaining special foods such as Christmas puddings and mince pies must be eaten. My mother always made a Twelfth plate and I continue in the family custom. Here’s mine from 2 years ago.

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Drury Lane Theatre in London has had a tradition since 1795 of providing a Twelfth Night cake. The will of Robert Baddeley made a bequest of £100 to provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on 6 January. The tradition still continues now with a procession as well.

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William Shakespeare wrote the play Twelfth Night, around 1601 on royal request to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night, 2 February 1602. The play has many social elements that are reversed, in the tradition of Tudor Twelfth Night revels, such as a woman, Viola, dressing as a man, and a servant Malvolio imagining that he can become a nobleman. The wonderful element that few today know is that women in Shakespeare’s day were played by boys. So the part of Viola was a boy playing a woman pretending to be a man – being courted by Olivia, a woman being played by a boy. The complex sexual and social overtones would have been hilarious to contemporary audiences but are lost on modern audiences because the women’s parts are played by women.

Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness was performed on 6 January 1605 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was originally entitled The Twelvth Nights Revells. The accompanying Masque, The Masque of Beauty was performed in the same court the Sunday night after the Twelfth Night in 1608.

Robert Herrick’s poem “Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene,” published in 1648, describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of “lamb’s-wool”, a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not

Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.
Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol briefly mentions Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting a children’s Twelfth Night party.

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In Chapter 6 of Harrison Ainsworth’s 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, the eponymous hero is elected King of festivities at the Twelfth Night celebrations held in Tom Shakeshaft’s barn, by receiving the slice of plum cake containing the bean; his companion Cissy obtains the pea and becomes queen, and they are seated together in a high corner to view the proceedings. The distribution has been rigged to prevent another person gaining the role. The festivities include country dances, and the introduction of a “Fool Plough”, a plough decked with ribands brought into the barn by a dozen mummers together with a grotesque “Old Bessie” (played by a man) and a Fool dressed in animal skins with a fool’s hat. The mummers carry wooden swords and perform revelries. The scene in the novel is illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne (“Phiz”). In the course of the evening, the fool’s antics cause a fight to break out, but Mervyn restores order. Three bowls of gin punch are disposed of, and at eleven o’clock the young men make the necessary arrangements to see the young ladies safely home across the fields.

Twelfth cake is the most important component of the dinner and in Victorian times turned into an elaborately decorated item as seen here:

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Nowadays the Twelfth cake, with the demise of Twelfth Night as a celebration, has metamorphosed into the Christmas cake (when once Christmas pudding was the key sweet element), and the bean/pea cake has become an Epiphany tradition. There is not a universally set way to make a Twelfth cake. The ornamentation plus bean/pea are common elements. I used to make a basic fruit cake, cover it with marzipan and royal icing, and then circle the fringes with 12 marzipan balls to signify the twelve days and with a bean embedded. No photos – sorry.

Here is the first known recipe for Twelfth cake taken from John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).  It makes a BIG cake.

Take seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

Jun 062014
 

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On this date in 1808 Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte (7 January 1768 – 28 July 1844), the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, was crowned King of Spain (1808–1813, as José I). Joseph somewhat reluctantly left Naples where he had been king of Naples and Sicily and where he was popular, and arrived in Spain where he was very unpopular indeed. Joseph came under heavy fire from his opponents in Spain, who tried to smear his reputation by calling him Pepe Botella for his alleged heavy drinking, an accusation echoed by later Spanish historiography, despite the fact that Joseph was abstemious. His arrival sparked the Spanish revolt against French rule, and the beginning of the Peninsular War. The revolt was about both nationalism and ideology, “a reaction against new institutions and ideas, a movement for loyalty to the old order: to the hereditary crown of the Most Catholic kings, which Napoleon, an excommunicated enemy of the Pope, had put on the head of a Frenchman; to the Catholic Church persecuted by republicans who had desecrated churches, murdered priests, and enforced a “loi des cultes” (separation of church and state); and to local and provincial rights and privileges threatened by an efficiently centralized government.

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King Joseph’s Spanish supporters were called josefinos or afrancesados (the frenchified). During his reign, he ended the Spanish Inquisition, partly because Napoleon was at odds with Pope Pius VII at the time. Despite such efforts to win popularity, Joseph’s foreign birth and support, plus his membership in a Masonic lodge, virtually guaranteed he would never be accepted as legitimate by the bulk of the Spanish people. During Joseph’s rule of Spain, Venezuela declared independence (1810) from Spain, the first nation to do so. The king had virtually no influence over the course of the ongoing Peninsular War: Joseph’s nominal command of French forces in Spain was mostly illusory, as the French commanders theoretically subordinate to King Joseph insisted on checking with Napoleon before carrying out Joseph’s instructions. Joseph was a classic puppet ruler, a token of Bonaparte’s desire to rule Spain by proxy. King Joseph abdicated and returned to France after defeat of the main French forces to the British at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. He was seen by Bonapartists as the rightful Emperor of the French after the death of Napoleon’s own son Napoleon II in 1832, although he did little to advance his claim.

Spain had been allied with France against the United Kingdom since the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. However, after the defeat of the combined Spanish and French fleets by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, cracks began to appear in the alliance, with Spain preparing to invade France from the south after the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition. In 1806 Napoleon was fighting in Prussia, so the Spanish readied the army for an invasion should the Prussians defeat him. Napoleon, however, routed the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstaedt and Spain backed down. Yet Spain continued to resent the loss of their fleet at Trafalgar and the fact that they were forced to join Napoleon’s Continental System. Nevertheless, the two allies agreed to partition Portugal, a long-standing British trading partner and ally, and which refused to join the Continental System. Napoleon was fully aware of the disastrous state of Spain’s economy and administration, and its political fragility, and came to believe that it had little value as an ally. He insisted on positioning French troops in Spain to prepare for a French invasion of Portugal, but once this was done, he continued to move additional French troops into Spain without any sign of an advance into Portugal. The presence of French troops on Spanish soil was extremely unpopular in Spain, resulting in the Mutiny of Aranjuez and the abdication of Charles IV of Spain in March, 1808.

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Charles IV hoped that Napoleon, who by this time had 100,000 troops stationed in Spain, would help him regain the throne. However, Napoleon refused to help Charles, and also refused to recognize his son, Ferdinand VII, as the new king. Instead, he succeeded in pressuring both Charles and Ferdinand to cede the crown to his brother, Joseph. The head of the French forces in Spain, Marshal Joachim Murat, meanwhile pressed for the former Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy, whose role in inviting the French forces into Spain had led to the mutiny of Aranjuez, to be set free. The failure of the remaining Spanish government to stand up to Murat caused popular anger. On 2 May 1808, Murat ordered the younger son of Charles IV, the Infante Francisco de Paula, into exile in France, leading to a widespread rebellion in the streets of Madrid.

The Council of Castile, the main organ of central government in Spain under Charles IV, was now in Napoleon’s control. However, due to the popular anger at French rule, it quickly lost authority outside the population centers which were directly French-occupied. To oppose this occupation, former regional governing institutions, such as the Parliament of Aragon and the Board of the Principality of Asturias, resurfaced in parts of Spain; elsewhere, juntas (councils) were created to fill the power vacuum and lead the struggle against French imperial forces. Provincial juntas began to coordinate their actions; regional juntas were formed to oversee the provincial ones. Finally, on 25 September 1808, a single Supreme Junta was established in Aranjuez to serve as the acting resistance government for all of Spain.

Murat established a plan of conquest, sending two large armies to attack pockets of pro-Ferdinand resistance. One army secured the route between Madrid and Vitoria and besieged Zaragoza, Girona, and Valencia. The other, sent south to Andalusia, sacked Córdoba. Instead of proceeding to Cádiz as planned, General Dupont was ordered to march back to Madrid, but was defeated by General Castaños at Bailén on 22 July 1808. This victory encouraged the resistance against the French in several countries elsewhere in Europe. After the battle, King Joseph left Madrid to take refuge in Vitoria. In the autumn of 1808, Napoleon himself entered Spain, entering Madrid on 2 December and returning Joseph to the capital. Meanwhile, a British army entered Spain from Portugal but was forced to retreat to Galicia. In early 1810, the Napoleonic offensive reached the vicinity of Lisbon, but were unable to penetrate the fortified Lines of Torres Vedras.

When Fernando VII left Bayonne, in May 1808, he asked that all institutions co-operate with the French authorities. Accordingly, the Council of Castile assembled in Bayonne, though only 65 of the total 150 members attended. The Assembly ratified the transfer of the Crown to Joseph Bonaparte and adopted with little change a constitutional text drafted by Napoleon. Most of those assembled did not perceive any contradiction between patriotism and collaboration with the new king. Moreover, it was not the first time a foreign dynasty had assumed the Spanish Crown: at the start of the eighteenth century, the House of Bourbon came to Spain from France after the last member of the House of Habsburg, Charles II, died without offspring.

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Joseph Bonaparte promulgated the Statute of Bayonne on July 7, 1808. As a constitutional text, it is a royal charter, because it was not the result of a sovereign act of the nation assembled in Parliament, but a royal edict. The text was imbued with a spirit of reform, in line with the Bonaparte ideals, but adapted to the Spanish culture so as to win the support of the elites of the old regime. It recognized the Catholic religion as the official religion and forbade the exercise of other religions. It did not contain an explicit statement about the separation of powers, but asserted the independence of the judiciary. Executive power lay with the king and his ministers. The courts, in the manner of the old regime, were constituted of the estates of the clergy, the nobility and the people. Except with regard to the budget, its ability to make laws was limiteded by the power of the monarch. In fact, the king was only forced to call Parliament every three years. It contained no explicit references to legal equality of citizens, although it was implicit in the equality in taxation, the abolition of privileges, and equal rights between Spanish and American citizens. The Constitution also recognized the freedom of industry and trade, the abolition of trade privileges and the elimination of internal customs.

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The Constitution established the Cortes Generales, an advisory body composed of the Senate which was formed by the male members of the royal family and 24 members appointed by the king from the nobles and the clergy, and a legislative assembly, with representatives from the estates of the nobility and the clergy. The Constitution established an authoritarian regime that included some enlightened projects, such as the abolition of torture, but preserving the Inquisition.

During his stay in Vitoria, Joseph Bonaparte had taken important steps to organize the state institutions, including creating an advisory Council of State. The king appointed a government, whose leaders formed an enlightened group which adopted a reform program. The Inquisition was abolished, as was the Council of Castile which was accused of anti-French policy. He decreed the end of feudal rights, the reduction of religious communities and the abolition of internal customs charges. This period saw measures to liberalize trade and agriculture and the creation of a stock exchange in Madrid. The State Council undertook the division of land into 38 provinces.

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As the popular revolt against Joseph Bonaparte spread, many who had initially co-operated with Bonaparte dynasty left their ranks. But there remained numerous Spanish, known as afrancesados, who nurtured his administration and whose very existence gives the Spanish war of independence a civil war character. The afrancesados saw themselves as heirs of enlightened absolutism and saw the arrival of Bonaparte as an opportunity to modernize the country. Many had been a part of government in the reign of Charles IV, for example, François Cabarrus, former head of finance and Mariano Luis de Urquijo, Secretary of State. But there were also writers like playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratín, scholars like Juan Antonio Llorente, the mathematician Alberto Lista, and musicians such as Fernando Sor.

Throughout the war, Joseph Bonaparte tried to exercise full authority as the King of Spain, preserving some autonomy against the designs of his brother Napoleon. In this regard, many afrancesados believed that the only way to maintain national independence was to collaborate with the new dynasty, as the greater the resistance to the French, the greater would be the subordination of Spain to the French imperial army and its war requirements. In fact, the opposite was the case: although in the territory controlled by King Joseph I modern rational administration and institutions replaced the Old Regime, the permanent state of war reinforced the power of the French marshals, barely allowing the civil authorities to act.

The military defeats suffered by the French army forced Joseph I to leave Madrid on two occasions. The king finally left Spain in June 1813, ending the failed stage of enlightened absolutism. Most of Joseph’s supporters (about 10,000 and 12,000) fled to France into exile, along with the retreating French troops after the war. Their property was confiscated. The Allied offensive intensified and culminated in the Battle of Vitoria, which marked the beginning of the end of French occupation and, in December 1813, in the Treaty of Valençay, which provided for the restoration of Ferdinand VII.

The burden of war destroyed the social and economic fabric of Portugal and Spain, and ushered in an era of social turbulence, political instability and economic stagnation. Devastating civil wars between liberal and absolutist factions led by officers trained in the Peninsular War persisted in Iberia until 1850. The cumulative crises and disruptions of invasion, revolution, and restoration led to the independence of most of Spain’s American colonies and the independence of Brazil from Portugal. During Joseph’s rule in Spain, Venezuela declared independence (1810) from Spain, the first nation to do so. Many others followed suit soon after. There is also an ironic twist in that Argentine General José de San Martín fought for Spain in the Peninsular War but then in 1812 sailed to Buenos Aires and began long campaigns to liberate colonies in South America from Spain.

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Since Joseph and Napoleon Bonaparte were from Corsica I though a Corsican recipe would be appropriate. The cuisine of the island is essentially Mediterranean with its own twists. One of these is the heavy use of chestnuts for both savory and sweet dishes. For example chestnut flour is used to make the local version of polenta, and the local flan incorporates chestnuts and brandy (locally produced). The signature cheese of the island is brocciu, a young whey cheese made from ewe’s milk. It too is found in savory and sweet dishes. It can be rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried or used to make the local cheesecake, fiadone. Beignets, combine the two tastes: chestnut flour doughnuts stuffed with cheese.

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The signature dish of the island is civet de sanglier, braised wild boar. It uses local red wine as the base of the sauce.   It is really hard to get wild boar so you’d probably best not try it at home. Substituting beef is all right, but you lose the gamey taste. It does need long slow cooking because the boar meat is very tough. When simmered slowly for hours and hours it eventually yields.

Civet de Sanglier

Ingredients

2 kg of wild boar meat
1.5 liters of full-bodied red wine
2 carrots, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 onions, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
6 chestnuts, blanched and peeled
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf)
salt , pepper

Instructions

Cut the boar meat into chunks. Mix with the vegetables and add the bouquet garni. Cover with red wine and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Drain and dry the meat and vegetables, preserving the marinade. Sauté them all together in a large cast iron skillet. Add the marinade and whatever wine is left over. Add the tomato paste.

Bring to a boil, then slow simmer over low heat covered for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is tender. If need be, uncover for the last 30 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.

Serve with pasta and crusty bread.

Serves 8