Apr 222017
 

Today is the birthday of Isabella I (Ysabel I) of Castile (1451 – 1504). She married Ferdinand II of Aragon and their marriage became the basis for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. After a struggle to claim her right to the throne, she reorganized the governmental system, brought the crime rate to the lowest it had been in years, and unburdened the kingdom of the enormous debt her brother had left behind. Her reforms and those she made with Ferdinand had an influence that extended well beyond the borders of their united kingdoms. Isabella and Ferdinand are well known for completing the Reconquista, ordering the conversion or exile of their Muslim and Jewish subjects under the legendary Spanish Inquisition, and for supporting and financing Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage that led to the colonization of huge parts of the New World and to the establishment of Spain as the first global power which dominated Europe and much of the world for more than a century. The phrase “the sun never sets on the empire” was coined to describe the Spanish empire under Isabella’s great-grandson, Felipe II, and inherited only much later by the British.

With many celebrated (larger than life) historical figures such as Napoleon, Genghis Khan, etc. I always ask my students the deathless question: “(Fill in the blank); ‘Good Thing’ or ‘Bad Thing’?” I’m stealing from 1066 And All That, of course, and on the surface it’s a silly question. History is not black and white. I’m asking them to give considered answers in the vein of, “On the one hand . . . . on the other hand . . .” Well what about Isabella? Good Thing or Bad Thing? Your answer probably depends on your ethnic origins. If you’re Hispanic you’ll probably lean in favor of Good Thing, if you’re Jewish, Indigenous American, or Moorish – not so much. The thing is that Isabella is a towering figure in world history. She was not only tough minded, independent, and politically astute, she was also the progenitor of numerous monarchs and dynasties.

The most famous living descendants of Isabella I (and Ferdinand II) are probably the current European monarchs. First of all, the Kings of Spain are descended from their union, with their current major dynastic heir being King Felipe VI of Spain. However, it is also the case that all the other monarchs currently reigning in Europe – King Albert II of Belgium, Grand-Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K., Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, King Harald V of Norway, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands – descend in some way or another from Isabella and Ferdinand. This is also true of the Sovereign Princes of Europe: Albert II, Prince of Monaco and Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein. That’s leaving a pretty significant mark.

From the point of view of English history, Isabella’s daughter, Katherine, was first married to Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, and then, when he died, was remarried to his second son Henry who became Henry VIII. Henry’s divorce from Katherine was, of course, the immediate cause of the English Reformation, and the ascent of their daughter, Mary I, Isabella’s granddaughter, the precipitating event leading to the bloody Counter-Reformation in England. Mary married Isabella’s great-grandson Felipe II (Mary’s first cousin once removed) but they had no children, hence that bloodline vanished. It’s always struck me as a tad ethnocentric (or xenophobic) of English history text books that Felipe is rarely acknowledged as an ACTUAL king of England. Admittedly he was king by marriage, and his reign lasted only whilst Mary was alive. But he was king – not royal consort, like Victoria’s Albert, or royal hanger-on like the current Greek guy. He was genuinely king of England (jure uxoris), and tried to make the title stick after Mary’s death by launching the famous Armada which came to a well-known miserable end. The current Elizabeth II is descended from Isabella via a different bloodline. And . . . just to muddy the waters further, Isabella was a direct descendant of the kings of England (including king John) via John of Gaunt. Not much hybrid vigor in the bloodlines in those days.

Isabella was first betrothed to Ferdinand at the age of 6, but subsequent complex royal machinations scotched that deal as she was offered around to numerous princes until, as an adult and heir presumptive, she got a (wobbly) agreement from her brother, Henry, king of Castile at the time, that she would not be forced to marry against her will.  In 1468 after Isabella refused a marriage proposal from Alfonso V of Portugal (backed by brother Henry), Isabella made a secret promise to marry her cousin and very first betrothed, Ferdinand of Aragon. On 18 October 1469, the formal betrothal took place. Because Isabella and Ferdinand were second cousins, they stood within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and the marriage would not be legal unless a dispensation from the Pope was obtained. With the help of the Valencian cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (later Alexander VI), Isabella and Ferdinand were presented with a supposed papal bull by Pius II (who had actually died in 1464), authorizing Ferdinand to marry within the third degree of consanguinity, making their marriage legal. Afraid of opposition, Isabella eloped from the court of Henry with the excuse of visiting her brother Alfonso’s tomb in Ávila. Ferdinand, on the other hand, crossed Castile in secret disguised as a servant. They were married immediately upon reuniting, on 19 October 1469, in the Palacio de los Vivero in the city of Valladolid. It was both a successful union politically, and, by all accounts, a happy one – although one never really knows about such things. I’d (modestly) characterize the marriage as an uncharacteristically (for the time) equal partnership. It’s vital to remember that this was an era of very powerful female rulers in a patriarchal world. Many men found this out to their peril.

You can catch up on Isabella’s numerous achievements in standard histories.  How about her personality? Here we must be careful not to be anachronistic. For starters, Isabella was short but stocky with a very fair complexion, and had a hair color that was between strawberry-blonde and auburn. Some portraits, however, show her as a brunette. Her daughters, Joanna and Catherine, were thought to resemble her the most. Isabella maintained an austere, temperate lifestyle, and her devotion to Catholicism was the hallmark of her life. In spite of her political hostility towards the Muslims in Andalusia, she developed a taste for Moorish decor and style.

Her contemporaries were more or less unanimous concerning her temperament. Andrés Bernáldez said, “She was an endeavored woman, very powerful, very prudent, wise, very honest, chaste, devout, discreet, truthful, clear, without deceit. Who could count the excellences of this very Catholic and happy Queen, always very worthy of praises.” Hernando del Pulgar wrote, “She was very inclined to justice, so much so that she was reputed to follow more the path of rigor than that of mercy, and did so to remedy the great corruption of crimes that she found in the kingdom when she succeeded to the throne.” This is a telling quote. Obviously she was not an advocate of “the quality of mercy.” This point is echoed in the writings of     Lucio Marineo Sículo: “[The royal knight Alvaro Yáñez de Lugo] was condemned to be beheaded, although he offered forty thousand ducados for the war against the Moors to the court so that these monies spare his life. This matter was discussed with the queen, and there were some who told her to pardon him, since these funds for the war were better than the death of that man, and her highness should take them. But the queen, preferring justice to cash, very prudently refused them; and although she could have confiscated all his goods, which were many, she did not take any of them to avoid any note of greed, or that it be thought that she had not wished to pardon him in order to have his goods; instead, she gave them all to the children of the aforesaid knight.” There you go !!! Justice trumps mercy (even fiscal pragmatics). Quite the stalwart woman.

Here’s a recipe from a 15th century Catalan cookbook, Libre Del Coch by Mestre Robert. I know I’m being a bit free and easy with my regional recipe idea here. If I were an idiot I could claim that Catalonia is part of Spain these days, as is Castile and Aragon, and, therefore, this is an old “Spanish” recipe. I’m not that stupid. But Isabella’s marriage did lead to the unification of Spain, and when I look over historic recipes I see a great deal of overlap from region to region, not least because European royalty moved all over the place when they married and took their cooks and culinary ideas with them. At the aristocratic level, the household cuisines showed a great deal of homogeneity, with variations due in large part to the availability of ingredients. This recipe is for a casserole/stew of meat (probably lamb or mutton) with oranges. Bitter oranges were brought to Spain from China by the Moors and were (and are) prolific throughout Iberia. They are a common flavoring ingredient.  This kind of recipe is ancestral to a host of Spanish meat casseroles.

Naturally the recipe is completely vague as to quantity of ingredients, and even as to their precise nature. What do you make of “totes salses fines” for example? Fine herbs/spices? I’m thinking pepper, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, allspice – the usual suspects. Medieval linguistic skills are not my strong suit to begin with, let alone interpreting vague instructions in the dialect (that seems to drift between Old French and Old Spanish). Agresta was a type of verjuice (unripe grape or apple juice) used as a strong acidifier (you’ll note that the recipe suggests vinegar as an alternative), intensified further by the orange juice. I’ve given translating a go. My translation is extremely loose partly because I don’t recognize all the vocabulary, and partly for ease of reading.

Casola de Carn

Pren la carn e talla-la menut a troços axf com una nou. E çoffregiràs-la ab bona grassa de carnsalada. E quant sia ben çoffredida, met hi de bon brou e vaja a coure en una casola. Emet-hi de totes salses fines e çaffra e un poch de such de toronge o agresta, de manera que coga molt bé, fins a tant que la carn se commence a desfer e que y romanga solament hun poch de brou, pendràs tres o quatre ous debatuts ab such de toronges o agresta. E met-ho dins en la cassola. E quant ton senyor se volrà aseure en taula, dona-li quatre o sinch voltes girades, e tantost se espessirà. E quant sia bé espès, leva-u del foch e fes escudelles e damunt cada una met-hi canyella.

Emperò alters són qui no.y volen metre ous ni salsa sinó sola canyella e girofle. E coguen en la carn, com dit he damunt.

E met-hi vinagre, perquè tinga sabor. E per lo semblant molts fan açò que us dire, que tota la carn posen en una peça farcida de canyella e girofle sencer y en lo brou ben picades les salses, emperò far a girar adés adés, perquèno coga més d’una part que d’altra e axf no.y cal metre sinó girofle e canyella, emperò com dit he de bona manera.

Meat Casserole

Cut the meat into pieces the size of a nut and fry it in pork fat. When it is well fried put in some good broth and set it to cook in a casserole. Add all the fine flavorings and saffron and a little orange juice or agresta, and cook well until the meat begins to fall apart and only a small amount of broth remains. Add three or four eggs beaten with orange juice or agresta. When your master is ready at table, turn the meat four or five times to let the sauce thicken. When it is thick, take it from the fire and serve it in bowls, sprinkled with a little cinnamon on each.

There are some people who do not add eggs, or spices except cinnamon and cloves. The meat is cooked as stated above.

They add vinegar, for the flavor. It appears that many people do it in the following manner: the meat is left whole stuffed with cinnamon and cloves, and with the other spices in the broth. The meat has to be turned from time to time so that it doesn’t cook more in one part than in any other. You can leave out the cloves and cinnamon, as long as you follow the other directions correctly.

Have fun. When I get round to experimenting with this recipe I’ll do it in a big covered skillet on the stove top rather than in a casserole, because I have more control that way. Besides, even the word “casserole” gives me nightmares because as a teenager my mother used to make a week’s worth of casseroles on Sundays, because she got home late from work and did not have time to cook in the evenings, and my father, who was an excellent cook, never lifted a finger. I was just learning at that stage and might have contributed something if I had known what I was doing, and did not feel the constant need to play the indolent adolescent. No matter what went into each casserole they all came out the same – and all tasting a bit burnt from being in the oven too long. Scalded and burnt dish rag is about how I would describe the taste. Admittedly oven versus stove top is a tough call. Oven braising works well enough if you know what you are doing.

Apr 102017
 

Passover begins at sundown today this year (2017). This post is the last concerning the three major moveable Jewish holy days, the others being Sukkot and Shavuot, which I have already covered. According to Torah prescriptions, Jews were required to celebrate these three festivals in Jerusalem, Passover being the most central to tradition. Jesus, as a faithful Jew, is reported to have traveled to Jerusalem for Passover at least once (when he fell afoul of the law and was executed). Hence Passover and Easter are inextricably linked, but since early Medieval times the Christian church has gone to great lengths to make sure that their observations do not coincide. Given that Passover can fall on any day of the week, but Easter must fall on a Sunday, it’s not all that difficult to keep them apart. The fact that they are so close together at all this year is relatively rare.

I simply cannot imagine that the entire Jewish population in antiquity downed tools and traveled to Jerusalem three times a year. It makes no sense in practical terms. Who’s going to mind the sheep or the shop whilst everyone is making a beeline for Jerusalem? I can see it happening a few times in a lifetime, but not every single year. Passover is, however, very deeply embedded in Jewish history and tradition and continues to be an important aspect of Jewish identity to this day. Observant and non-observant Jews of all stripes have a Passover seder, at the very least, every year with varying degrees of commitment to established religious practice. Not to do so would be the equivalent of a family of Christian background not celebrating Christmas. It does happen of course. Preparing a seder is a lot of work. But almost all of the Jews that I know, even the most vehemently non-religious, mark Passover in some way or another.

If I get too deeply mired in discussing the history and evolution of Passover we’ll be here all year. So I’ll try to keep it simple (dangerously teetering on the edge of the simplistic). My views on the matter are not very popular among Jews anyway — nor most Christians either. It was one of those great turning points in my life when I learned as a first year theology student at Oxford that Biblical historians and archeologists simply did not believe that the slavery in Egypt of the Israelites, the exodus under Moses, the wandering in the desert for 40 years, and the ultimate conquest of Canaan, had any basis in historical fact. Say what ????  That’s pretty fundamental to Jewish (and Christian) belief. People who’ve barely cracked the Bible know about parting the Red Sea and the like. BUT . . . extra-Biblical sources for any of this narrative are non-existent, and archeology flatly contradicts all of the details. The current explanation for the appearance of the Israelites in the Levant that has the most favor among archeologists and historians (the ones who have no religious or ethnic axes to grind, that is), is that the putative 12 tribes of Israel were at the outset a loosely confederated group of related Semitic peoples who had migrated into the land from various places and unified for a time against other indigenous cultures. The centrality of Judah and Jerusalem were a consequence of the defeat and expulsion of the northern tribes by Assyria which left only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south intact and soldiering on. Through a combination of relative isolation and shrewd political maneuvering they were able to tough it out a little longer until they were crushed and deported by the forces of Babylon.

The two periods that, for me (and a great many other Biblical historians), are crucial in understanding how Passover emerged and evolved as central to Jewish tradition and identity are the reforms of Josiah (649-609 BCE) and the Babylonian Exile which are inextricably linked.  Until Josiah was king of Judah the nation had managed to stave off attack by neighboring empires such as Egypt and Assyria by being relatively subservient and compliant – paying tribute, accepting multiple religious traditions and the like – as ways of keeping a low profile. Under Josiah that all changed. He came to the throne at the age of 8 and ruled for 31 years. During this time the neighboring empires were struggling with one another for supremacy and went through periods of waxing and waning fortunes. This situation left Judah in a relatively strong position to assert itself. It had no chance against the likes of Egypt or Babylon when they were at full strength, but when they were weak(er) powerful people in Judah could entertain visions of grandeur. Hence Judah under Josiah, swayed by politician-scholars, created a bold new identity and was (seemingly) ready to take on the world.

During Josiah’s middle years Judah underwent a nativist revolution led by a group now called the Deuteronomists (after one of the texts they wrote). Nativism involves stripping a culture of what it perceives as “foreign” elements (religion, literature, language, clothing, foodways, etc) and highlighting the “original” (or “native”) core as it is perceived. According to the Hebrew Bible, in his 18th regnal year (when he was 26), Josiah ordered tax money to be used to renovate the Temple and during the renovation a “Book of the Law” (sefer ha-torah) was “discovered.” Modern scholars now generally believe that the “discovery” was a plant by the Deuteronomists and the book they “discovered” was one they had written: either Deuteronomy itself or a portion of it. Josiah took the book seriously, was horrified discovering all the laws in it that were not being followed (and the penalties for such crimes against God), and immediately set about stripping away all practices that were foreign and opposed the law, and establishing all the laws that were enshrined in the document. Among other things, the law prescribed that Passover should be held in Jerusalem every year on a certain date, with explanations concerning why it was to be observed, and how. When the Temple renovations were complete and all the foreign cults removed (and their priests executed), Josiah held a massive celebratory Passover.

Thus the story of the Israelite slavery in Egypt, the attempts by Moses to free the people from bondage, the various plagues that God sent to convince the Pharoah to release the people, and, finally, God’s commandment to an angel to kill every firstborn male in Egypt who lived in a house whose doorposts were not smeared with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, became an indelible part of the history and identity of the Jewish people – commemorated every year with the ritual slaughter and consumption of sacrificial lambs. My (not terribly well supported) conjecture is that Josiah’s great Passover was the first, and that it has been celebrated every year since following the rules laid down in Deuteronomy and other books of the Torah. The symbolism of bondage and release received a boost a generation later when the Babylonian army defeated Judah, destroyed the Temple, and deported the bulk of the population to Babylon in the period now known as the Exile or the Captivity. During this seminal period I believe that classic Jewish belief solidified. Following the return to Jerusalem, the Jews suffered multiple conquests by empires including the Greek and Roman which, again, strengthened the symbolism until in 70 CE the Romans essentially wiped out the population of Judah, destroyed the Second Temple (built after the return from the Exile) and scattered the Jews across Europe and the world with no homeland. This new Diaspora once more reinforced the Passover message of bondage, alienation, and oppression – offering an eventual release, which was partially granted by the creation of the state of Israel after 2 millennia of separation from the land.

The Passover meal, the seder, is, of course central to the celebration. Where it was once made up of (ritually slaughtered) lamb which recalled the blood of lambs saving the people in bondage, bitter herbs, recalling the bitterness of slavery, and unleavened bread, recalling the haste with which the people left Israel with no time to let the bread rise, now all but the unleavened bread are tokens. The classic seder dish, often using a special platter reserved for that one night, consists typically of a roasted lamb shank or chicken wing, a roasted boiled egg, 2 kinds of bitter herbs, a leafy herb to be dipped in salt water, and a brown sweet paste of ground fruit and nuts. Each has symbolic meaning which is explained during the meal. There are also three whole matzot, which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins. The middle matzoh will be broken and half of it put aside for the ritual of the afikoman (a game played with children to maintain their interest and help in the process of understanding the symbolism). The top and other half of the middle matzoh will be used for the hamotzi (blessing over bread), and the bottom one will be used for the korech (Hillel sandwich).

It always seems to me a shame at these meals that these elements are merely symbolic. They are all great food items. What’s not to love about lamb, roast eggs, salty greens, horseradish, and unleavened bread washed down with cups of wine? These days the principal seder dishes vary according to the underlying ethnicity of the family. I’ve only ever attended eastern Ashkenazi seders where matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish, and brisket reign supreme. There are recipes galore for these classics all over the place. Matzoh brei is a lesser known Passover treat used as a sweet interlude, and involving the central unleavened bread.

Matzoh Brei

Ingredients

2 sheets matzoh
2 large eggs
salt and pepper
vegetable oil
jam or syrup

Instructions

Break the matzoh into small places and place in a bowl.  Cover with very hot water and let steep for about 30 seconds, then drain thoroughly. Meanwhile beat the eggs in a separate bowl with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat enough vegetable oil in a skillet for very shallow frying (2 or 3 tablespoons) over medium-high heat.

Combine the eggs and matzoh and mix thoroughly. Divide into 4, shaping each into a thin, flat pancake.

Fry the pancakes one at a time until golden on both sides, about one minute per side (turning only once).

Serve slightly broken up with whatever jam or syrup you prefer.

Jan 182017
 

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Today is the birthday (1882)  of Alan Alexander “A.A.” Milne best known for his books about the teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and also for various poems. Milne actually thought of himself primarily as a playwright but the huge success of Pooh overshadowed all his previous work. Both he and his son, Christopher Robin, spent much of their lives trying to escape the fame of Pooh (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/christopher-robin/ ).

Milne studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge graduating in 1903. He collaborated with his brother Kenneth on humorous pieces whilst at Cambridge and their articles appeared over the initials AKM. Milne’s work came to the attention of the magazine Punch, where Milne was to become a contributor and later an assistant editor. He also played for the amateur English cricket team, the Allahakbarries, alongside the likes of J. M. Barrie, P.G. Wodehouse, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals. He was commissioned into the 4th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 17 February 1915 as a second lieutenant. On 7 July 1916, he was injured while serving in the Battle of the Somme and invalided back to England. Having recovered, he was recruited into Military Intelligence to write propaganda articles for MI 7b between 1916 and 1918. He was discharged in 1919.

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Milne married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and their son Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920. In 1925, Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex. During World War II, Milne was Captain of the British Home Guard in Hartfield & Forest Row, insisting on being plain “Mr. Milne” to the members of his platoon. He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952 left him an invalid, and by August 1953 “he seemed very old and disenchanted”. Milne died in January 1956, aged 74.

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Milne is most famous for his Pooh books inspired by his son and his stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher Robin Milne’s stuffed bear, originally named “Edward”, was renamed “Winnie-the-Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war. “The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh”. E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger, were incorporated into Milne’s stories, and two more characters – Rabbit and Owl – were created by Milne’s imagination. Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York where 750,000 people visit them every year.

Here’s a little selection of Milne’s quotes: some from Pooh, others from elsewhere.  I could have chosen dozens of others, of course. If you are a Milne fan you’ll know these and many more. It’s just a reminder.

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If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

I’m not lost for I know where I am. But, where I am may be lost.

The things that make me different are the things that make me.

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

Christopher Milne noted that his father was something of a nostalgic eater; he savored food for the memories it brought back to him as much as for their present flavors. However, he does not say what these dishes were. Various cooks have fancifully created Milne’s non-existent Cottleston pie:

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Well, Milne lived most of his life in Sussex, so maybe this old-fashioned Sussex recipe will suit.

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Sussex Churdle Pie

Ingredients

1 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and finely-chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely-chopped
1 lb lambs liver, chopped
2 oz streaky bacon, rind removed and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
salt and pepper
2 oz fresh breadcrumbs
4 oz Cheddar, shredded
10 oz puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Gently melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic, bacon and liver. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, while stirring constantly, until the liver has browned. Add the sage, apple, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another minute and then remove from the heat.

Roll out the pastry and cut it into 7” rounds.  It should make from 4 to 6.

Divide the meat mixture between the pastry circles, and top each one with some cheese and breadcrumbs.

Gather the pastry around to form a purse shape, with the opening at the top.  Squeeze together to form a seal, using a little of the beaten egg to form a seal. Paint the remaining egg wash over the pastry.

Bake the pies, in the oven, for 18-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

Jan 132017
 

gig5

Today may, or may not be the birthday of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, also commonly referred to as Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff and G. I. Gurdjieff, an influential early 20th-century mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer of Armenian and Greek descent, born in Armenia under Russian rule. Both the day of his birth and the year are mysteries. He once wrote that he was born on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day according to the Julian calendar which people infer is January 13th but a passport states that his date of birth was November 28th 1877.  People close to him (and his grave marker give 1872 as the year, and other sources say 1866. Given his penchant for inventing stories about himself and the people he met, there is no way of knowing, but today’s date is as good as any to celebrate a great man, and one of my heroes.

For me the most important aspect of Gurdjieff’s philosophy was that he believed in developing a kind of deep spirituality that was available to people in all walks of life, not just to those – such as monks or Sufis – who devoted all their lives to spirituality. Gurdjieff taught that most humans do not possess a unified mind-body consciousness and thus live their lives in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep”, but that it is possible to transcend to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential. Gurdjieff described a method attempting to do so, calling the discipline “The Work” (that is, “work on oneself”) or “the Method.”

Gurdjieff argued that many of the existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth had lost connexion with their original meaning and vitality and so could no longer serve humanity in the way that had been intended at their inception. As a result, humans were failing to realize the truths of ancient teachings and were instead becoming more and more like automatons, susceptible to control from outside and increasingly capable of otherwise unthinkable acts of mass psychosis such as World War I. At best, the various surviving sects and schools could provide only a one-sided development, which did not result in a fully integrated human being.

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According to Gurdjieff, only one dimension of the three dimensions of the person— the emotions, or the physical body or the mind—tends to develop in such schools and sects, and generally at the expense of the other faculties or “centers,” as Gurdjieff called them. As a result, these paths fail to produce a properly balanced human being. Furthermore, anyone wishing to undertake any of the traditional paths to spiritual knowledge (which Gurdjieff reduced to three— the path of the fakir, the path of the monk, and the path of the yogi) were required to renounce life in the world. Gurdjieff thus developed a “Fourth Way” which would be amenable to the requirements of modern people living modern lives in Europe and the US. Instead of developing body, mind, or emotions separately, Gurdjieff’s discipline worked on all three to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development.

All I can do here is give a brief glimpse at the man and his teaching. You’ll have to read his works to get a better understanding, although they may not help much either. I first read his Meetings with Remarkable Men not long after it was published in English in 1963, and it took me a fair way into the book before I realized that rather than being what it claimed to be – namely, an autobiography and a description of profoundly spiritual men – it was mostly a series of tall tales, and nothing in it revealed anything directly about his philosophy or of the people he met. Every chapter ends with more or less the same ways – to the effect: “he told me the deepest thoughts which profoundly moved me, and which I will explain later.” I finally twigged that much of what he had written was a spoof when he described a trip across the Gobi desert which was obviously, and laughably, false.  Gurdjieff was nothing more or less than a complete paradox of a man, but he had many devoted disciples, as well as many students who fell away from him for one reason or another: usually his quixotic temperament and ideology. What I have gleaned of his philosophy over the years has left a lasting impression on me.

Gurdjieff (Russian: Гео́ргий Ива́нович Гурджи́ев, Greek: Γεώργιος Γεωργιάδης, Armenian: Գեորգի Գյուրջիև) was born to a Caucasus Greek father, Ἰωάνης Γεωργιάδης (Yiannis Georgiades), and an Armenian mother, Evdokia, in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire in the Transcaucasus. The name Gurdjieff represents a Russified form of the Pontic Greek surname “Georgiades” (Greek: Γεωργιάδης).

Gurdjieff spent his childhood in Kars, which, from 1878 to 1918, was the administrative capital of the Russian ruled Transcaucasus province of Kars Oblast, a border region recently captured from the Ottoman Empire with extensive grassy plateau-steppe and high mountains with a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional population that had a history of respect for travelling mystics and holy men and for religious syncretism and conversion. Both the city of Kars and the surrounding territory were home to an extremely diverse population: Armenians, Russians, Caucasus Greeks, Georgians, Turks, Kurds and smaller numbers of Christian communities from eastern and central Europe such as Caucasus Germans, Estonians and Russian sectarian communities like the Molokans and Doukhobors. Gurdjieff makes particular mention of the Yazidi community. Growing up in a multi-ethnic society, Gurdjieff became fluent in Armenian, Pontic Greek, Russian, and Turkish, speaking the latter in a mixture of elegant Osmanli and some dialect. He later acquired “a working facility with several European languages.” Early influences on him included his father, a carpenter and amateur ashik or bardic poet, and the priest of the town’s Russian church, Dean Borsh, a family friend. As a boy Gurdjieff avidly read Russian-language scientific literature. Influenced by these writings, and having witnessed a number of phenomena that he could not explain, he formed the conviction that there existed a hidden truth not to be found in science or in mainstream religion.

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In early adulthood, according to his own account Gurdjieff’s curiosity led him to travel to Central Asia, Egypt, Iran, India, Tibet, and Rome before he returned to Russia for a few years in 1912. He was always unforthcoming about the source of his teachings. The only account of his wanderings appears in Meetings with Remarkable Men, which is not reliable – at all. He claims to have met dervishes, fakirs and descendants of the extinct Essenes, whose teaching had been, he claimed, conserved at a monastery in Sarmoung. The book also has an overarching quest narrative involving a map of “pre-sand Egypt” and culminating in an encounter with the “Sarmoung Brotherhood”, an organization that has never been definitively identified.

Gurdjieff wrote that he supported himself during his travels with odd jobs and trading schemes (one of which he described as dyeing hedgerow birds yellow and selling them as canaries). In the book he says that it’s always possible to make money in business if one is shrewd.  On his reappearance after his travels, as far as the historical record is concerned, the ragged wanderer had transformed into a well-heeled businessman. His only autobiographical writing concerning this period is Herald of Coming Good, a work, if anything, even less reliable than Meetings.

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From 1913 to 1949, the chronology appears to be based on material that can be confirmed by primary documents, independent witnesses, cross-references and reasonable inference. On New Year’s Day in 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow and attracted his first students, including his cousin, the sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and the eccentric Rachmilievitch. In the same year, he married the Polish Julia Ostrowska in Saint Petersburg. In 1914, Gurdjieff advertised his ballet, “The Struggle of the Magicians,” and he supervised his pupils’ writing of the sketch “Glimpses of Truth.” In 1915, Gurdjieff accepted P. D. Ouspensky as a pupil, and in 1916, he accepted the composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife, Olga, as students. At the time he had about 30 pupils. Ouspensky already had a reputation as a writer on mystical subjects and had conducted his own, ultimately disappointing, search for wisdom in the East. The Fourth Way taught by Gurdjieff during this period was complex and metaphysical, partly expressed in scientific terminology.

In the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Russia, Gurdjieff left Petrograd in 1917 to return to his family home in Alexandropol. During the Bolshevik Revolution, he set up temporary study communities in Essentuki in the Caucasus, then in Tuapse, Maikop, Sochi and Poti, all on the Black Sea coast of southern Russia, where he worked intensively with many of his Russian pupils. In March 1918, Ouspensky separated from Gurdjieff, settling in England and teaching the Fourth Way in his own way and attracting his own students. Subsequently the two men had a highly ambivalent relationship.

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Four months later, Gurdjieff’s eldest sister and her family reached him in Essentuki as refugees, informing him that Turks had shot his father in Alexandropol on 15 May (as a part of the long-forgotten Armenian genocide). Posing as a scientist, Gurdjieff left Essentuki with fourteen companions and travelled by train to Maikop, where hostilities delayed them for three weeks. In spring 1919, Gurdjieff met the artist Alexandre de Salzmann and his wife Jeanne and accepted them as pupils. Assisted by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gurdjieff gave the first public demonstration of his “Sacred Dances.”

In 1919, Gurdjieff and his closest pupils moved to Tiflis. There, Gurdjieff’s wife, Julia Ostrowska; the Stjoernvals; the Hartmanns and the de Saltmarsh gathered the fundamentals of his teaching. Gurdjieff concentrated on his still unstaged ballet, “The Struggle of the Magicians.” Thomas de Hartmann (who had made his debut years ago, before Czar Nicholas II of Russia) worked on the music for the ballet, and Olga Ivanovna Hinzenberg (who years later married the architect Frank Lloyd Wright) practiced the ballet dances. In 1919, Gurdjieff established his first Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.

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In late May 1920, when political conditions in Georgia changed and the old order was crumbling, his party travelled to Batumi on the Black Sea coast and then took ship to Istanbul. Gurdjieff rented an apartment on Koumbaradji Street in Péra and later at 13 Abdullatif Yemeneci Sokak near the Galata Tower. The apartment is near the kha’neqa’h (monastery) of the Molavieh Order of Sufis (founded by Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi), where Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Thomas de Hartmann witnessed the sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes. In Istanbul, Gurdjieff also met his future pupil Capt. John G. Bennett, then head of British Military Intelligence in Constantinople, who describes his impression of Gurdjieff as follows:

It was there that I first met Gurdjieff in the autumn of 1920, and no surroundings could have been more appropriate. In Gurdjieff, East and West do not just meet. Their difference is annihilated in a world outlook which knows no distinctions of race or creed. This was my first, and has remained one of my strongest impressions. A Greek from the Caucasus, he spoke Turkish with an accent of unexpected purity, the accent that one associates with those born and bred in the narrow circle of the Imperial Court. His appearance was striking enough even in Turkey, where one saw many unusual types. His head was shaven, immense black moustache, eyes which at one moment seemed very pale and at another almost black. Below average height, he gave nevertheless an impression of great physical strength

In August 1921 and 1922, Gurdjieff travelled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various cities, including Berlin and London. He attracted the allegiance of Ouspensky’s many prominent pupils (notably his eventual editor and translator, A. R. Orage). After an unsuccessful attempt to gain British citizenship, Gurdjieff established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man south of Paris at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Avon near the famous Château de Fontainebleau. The once-impressive but somewhat crumbling mansion set in extensive grounds housed an entourage of several dozen, including some of Gurdjieff’s remaining relatives and some White Russian refugees.

New pupils included C. S. Nott, René Zuber, Margaret Anderson and her ward Fritz Peters. The generally intellectual and middle-class types who were attracted to Gurdjieff’s teaching often found the Prieuré’s spartan accommodation and emphasis on hard labor in the grounds disconcerting. Gurdjieff was putting into practice his teaching that people need to develop physically, emotionally and intellectually, hence the mixture of lectures, music, dance, and manual work. Older pupils noticed how the Prieuré teaching differed from the complex metaphysical “system” that had been taught in Russia. In addition to the physical hardships, his personal behavior towards pupils could be ferocious:

Gurdjieff was standing by his bed in a state of what seemed to me to be completely uncontrolled fury. He was raging at Orage, who stood impassively, and very pale, framed in one of the windows…. Suddenly, in the space of an instant, Gurdjieff’s voice stopped, his whole personality changed, he gave me a broad smile—looking incredibly peaceful and inwardly quiet— motioned me to leave, and then resumed his tirade with undiminished force. This happened so quickly that I do not believe that Mr. Orage even noticed the break in the rhythm.

Starting in 1924, Gurdjieff made visits to North America, where he eventually received the pupils taught previously by A.R. Orage. In 1924, while driving alone from Paris to Fontainebleau, he had a near-fatal car accident. Nursed by his wife and mother, he made a slow and painful recovery against all medical expectation. Still convalescent, he formally “disbanded” his institute on 26 August (although he dispersed only his “less dedicated” pupils), which he explained as an undertaking “in the future, under the pretext of different worthy reasons, to remove from my eyesight all those who by this or that make my life too comfortable.”

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After recovering, he began writing Beelzebub’s Tales, the first part of All and Everything in a mixture of Armenian and Russian. The book was deliberately convoluted and obscure, forcing the reader to “work” to find its meaning. He also composed it according to his own principles, writing in noisy cafes to force a greater effort of concentration.

In 1925, Gurdjieff’s mother died, and his wife developed cancer; she was to die in June 1926. Gurdjieff was in New York from November 1925 to the spring of 1926, when he succeeded in raising over $100,000. In all he made six or seven trips to the US. During them, he alienated a number of people with his brash and undisguised demands for money which some have interpreted in terms of his following the Malamatiyya technique of the Sufis, that is, deliberately attracting disapproval.

Despite his fund-raising efforts in the United States, the Prieuré operation ran into debt and was shut down in 1932. Gurdjieff constituted a new teaching group in Paris. Known as The Rope, it comprised only women, many of them writers, many of whom were lesbians. Members included Kathryn Hulme, Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson and Enrico Caruso’s widow, Dorothy. Gurdjieff became acquainted with Gertrude Stein through Rope members, but she was never a follower.

In 1935, Gurdjieff stopped work on All and Everything. He had completed the first two parts of the planned trilogy but only started on the Third Series (later published under the title Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’.) In 1936, he settled in an apartment at 6, Rue des Colonels-Renard in Paris, where he was to stay for the rest of his life. In 1937, his brother Dmitry died, and The Rope disbanded.

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Although the apartment at 6 Rue des Colonels-Renard was very small for the purpose, he continued to teach groups of pupils throughout World War II. Visitors recalled the pantry, stocked with an extraordinary collection of eastern delicacies, which served as his inner sanctum, and the suppers he held with elaborate toasts to “idiots” in vodka and cognac. His teaching was now far removed from the original “system”, being based on proverbs, jokes and personal interaction, although pupils were required to read, three times if possible, copies of Beelzebub’s Tales.

After the war, Gurdjieff tried to reconnect with his former pupils. Ouspensky was reluctant, but after his death (October 1947), his widow advised his remaining pupils to see Gurdjieff in Paris. J. G. Bennett also visited from England, the first meeting for 25 years. Ouspensky’s pupils in England had all thought that Gurdjieff was dead. They discovered he was alive only after the death of Ouspensky, who had not told them that Gurdjieff was still living. They were overjoyed to hear so, and many of Ouspensky’s pupils including Rina Hands, Basil Tilley and Catherine Murphy visited Gurdjieff in Paris. Hands and Murphy worked on the typing and retyping of the forthcoming All and Everything.

Gurdjieff suffered a second car accident in 1948 but again made an unexpected recovery:

With iron-like tenacity, he managed to gain his room, where he sat down and said: “Now all organs are destroyed. Must make new”. Then, he turned to Bennett, smiling: “Tonight you come dinner. I must make body work”. As he spoke, a great spasm of pain shook his body and blood gushed from an ear. Bennett thought: “He has a cerebral haemorrhage. He will kill himself if he continues to force his body to move”. But then he reflected: “He has to do all this. If he allows his body to stop moving, he will die. He has power over his body”.

Gurdjieff died at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. His funeral took place at the St. Alexandre Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 12 Rue Daru, Paris. He is buried in the cemetery at Avon (near Fontainebleau).

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Eating was a supremely important act for Gurdjieff.  He insisted that, “Man should eat, not as an animal, but consciously.” He chose eating as the one experience that all human beings share:

When you do a thing, do it with the whole self, one thing at a time. Now I sit here and I eat. For me nothing exists in the world except this food, this table. I eat with the whole attention. So you must do—in everything. To be able to do one thing at a time—this is the property of man, not man in quotation marks.

If one knows how to eat properly, one knows how to pray.

It is important to compose a dish in its correctly-blended elements as a composition of music or the colors in painting. Harmony in scale. Must have much knowledge to be a good cook. A culinary doctor.

When I eat, I self-remember.

Thomas de Hartmann also tells us that:

To taste life fully was one of Mr. Gurdjieff’s principles. During our life with him we tried every sort of eastern dish, some very exotic. He told us that in the East they have always paid particular attention to the refinement of food elements. The aim is not to gorge oneself under the table, but rather to sample, in tiny portions, all kinds of variation of taste experiences. I can still see him vividly, his muscles completely relaxed as always. Slowly he lifts to his mouth a very good pear, not peeled. Unhurried, he takes a bite of it as if striving to absorb its entire aroma, it’s entire taste.

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Given the foregoing it’s a bit difficult to suggest a single recipe to celebrate Gurdjieff’s life. Anything from an unpeeled apple to an enormous Chinese banquet would work because it’s less in what you eat as in how you eat it that is the key to Gurdjieff’s method. In that light I will give you some insight into Armenian cuisine, since Gurdjieff was Armenian.  I have mentioned Armenian cooking once before: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jude-the-obscure/

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Armenians will stuff just about anything (with anything). This recipe is for a stuffed leg of lamb, but you can just as easily use lamb breast. The array of herbs, spices, and other flavors meets Gurdjieff’s desire for richness of cuisine. You should probably drink lots of vodka, brandy, or calvados with the meal if you want to follow in Gurdjieff’s footsteps.

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Armenian Stuffed Lamb

Ingredients

1 (5 -6 lb) leg of lamb, semiboned (shank bone left in,)

Marinade

3 garlic cloves, cut into 12 slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp dried mint
2 tsp dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper

Stuffing

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup minced celery
1 cup long-grain rice
3 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp dried currants
freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp cinnamon

Instructions

Marinate the lamb by first making 12 small incisions on the outside surface and inserting the garlic slivers. Then combine the oil, lemon juice, mint, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place the lamb in a non-reactive dish and spread the marinade evenly over the inside and outside surfaces. Let the meat stand covered at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight.

Make the stuffing about an hour or so before roasting the lamb. Melt the butter in large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and sauté until soft but not browned. Stir in the rice, pine nuts and parsley. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice turns opaque (2-3 minutes). Gradually stir in the broth then add the currants and pepper to taste. Heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and add the allspice and cinnamon while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let the stuffing cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 475°F/250°C.

Stuff the open pocket of the lamb with about 2 cups of stuffing. Press the open ends together and tie at 1-inch intervals with kitchen string. Place the lamb on a rack in roasting pan. Spoon the remaining stuffing into a small casserole and set aside.

Roast the lamb until browned (about 15 minutes) then reduce the heat to 350°F/175°C. Carefully pour 1½ cups of water into the pan. Continue to roast, basting every 15 minutes, for about 45 minutes. Fifteen minutes before the lamb is done, spoon 2 tablespoons of pan juices over the stuffing in the casserole and bake in the oven until heated through. Transfer the lamb to carving board and let stand covered with a tent of foil for 15-20 minutes.

Spoon the fat from the pan juices, then heat the to a rapid boil, scraping loose the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Strain into a sauceboat.

Slice the lamb into ½” thick slices and serve with the stuffing and pan juices.

Oct 152016
 

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Today is the birthday (1542) of Abu’l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar, popularly known as Akbar I  and later Akbar the Great (Urdu: Akbar-e-Azam; literally “Great the Great”), Mughal Emperor from 1556 until his death. He was the third and one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal Dynasty in India. Akbar succeeded his father, Humayun, under a regent, Bairam Khan, who helped the young emperor expand and consolidate Mughal domains in India. Longtime readers know that I am not crazy about celebrating warriors and emperors, but I will make an exception with Akbar because his impact was so vast and he was a strong believer in creating harmony through diversity.

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Akbar was a strong personality and a successful general who gradually enlarged the Mughal Empire to include nearly all of the Indian Subcontinent north of the Godavari river. His power and influence, however, extended over the entire country because of Mughal military, political, cultural, and economic dominance. To unify the vast Mughal state, Akbar established a centralized system of administration throughout his empire and adopted a policy of conciliating conquered rulers through marriage and diplomacy. To preserve peace and order in a religiously and culturally diverse empire, he adopted policies that won him the support of his non-Muslim subjects. Akbar avoided tribal bonds and Islamic state identity, and sought to unite far-flung regions of his realm through loyalty, expressed via a Persianized culture, and a cult of personality as an emperor who had near-divine status.

Mughal India developed a strong and stable economy under Akbar, leading to commercial expansion and greater patronage of the arts. He was fond of literature, and created a library of over 24,000 volumes written in Sanskrit, Hindustani, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers. Holy men of many faiths, poets, architects and artisans from all over the world came to his court for study and discussion. Akbar’s courts at Delhi, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri became centers of the arts, letters, and learning. Perso-Islamic culture began to merge and blend with indigenous Indian elements, and a distinct Indo-Persian culture emerged characterized by Mughal style arts, painting, and architecture. Disillusioned with orthodox Islam and perhaps hoping to bring about religious unity within his empire, Akbar promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived from Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. A simple, monotheistic cult, tolerant in outlook, it centered on Akbar as a prophet, for which he drew the ire of the ulema (Islamic scholars) and orthodox Muslims.

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Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth. He created a powerful military system and instituted effective political and social reforms. By abolishing the sectarian tax on non-Muslims and appointing them to high civil and military posts, he was the first Mughal ruler to win the trust and loyalty of the native subjects. He had Sanskrit literature translated, participated in native festivals, realizing that a stable empire depended on the co-operation and good-will of his subjects. Thus, the foundations for a multicultural empire under Mughal rule was laid during his reign.

On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell ill with an attack of dysentery, from which he never recovered. He is believed to have died on or about 27 October 1605, after which his body was buried at a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra. Akbar was succeeded as emperor by his son, Jahangir.

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I could go on for pages and pages about Akbar because there is so much written about him. His reign was chronicled extensively by his court historian Abul Fazal in the books Akbarnama and Ain-i-akbari. Other contemporary sources of Akbar’s reign include the works of Badayuni, Shaikhzada Rashidi and Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. I leave that to you to work on. You will discover he had extensive contact with foreign governments, especially Portugal and Britain, was exceptionally well read, and did a great deal to create a sense of Indian identity out of cultural plurality. Here’s just a personal footnote.

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Akbar beside being an emperor and general was an animal trainer (reputedly keeping thousands of hunting cheetahs during his reign and training many himself), and theologian. Many scholars believe he was dyslexic, but he was read to every day and had a remarkable memory.  According to his son, Jahangir, Akbar was “of the hue of wheat; his eyes and eyebrows were black and his complexion rather dark than fair.” Antoni de Montserrat, the Catalan Jesuit who visited his court described him as follows:

One could easily recognize even at first glance that he is King. He has broad shoulders, somewhat bandy legs well-suited for horsemanship, and a light brown complexion. He carries his head bent towards the right shoulder. His forehead is broad and open, his eyes so bright and flashing that they seem like a sea shimmering in the sunlight. His eyelashes are very long. His eyebrows are not strongly marked. His nose is straight and small though not insignificant. His nostrils are widely open as though in derision. Between the left nostril and the upper lip there is a mole. He shaves his beard but wears a moustache. He limps in his left leg though he has never received an injury there.

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Akbar and other Mughal emperors left their mark on cuisine, of course. What is now known as Mughlai cuisine consists of dishes developed in India at the time of the Mughal Empire. It represents the cooking styles now used in North India (especially Uttar Pradesh and Delhi), Pakistan (particularly among Muhajir people), and the Indian cities of Hyderabad and Bhopal. The cuisine is strongly influenced by Central Asian cuisine, the region where the Turco-Mongol Mughal rulers originally came from, which, in turn, strongly influenced the regional cuisines of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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Koftas, meatball dishes, are a well-known component of Mughlai cooking. Early recipes (included in some of the earliest known Arabic cookbooks) generally use seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls, and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. This method was taken to the West and is referred to as “gilding” or “endoring.” Many regional variations exist, notable among them include the unusually large Azerbaijani (Iranian) Tabriz kuftesi, having an average diameter of 20 cm, (8 in). and may encase inside it an entire roasted chicken stuffed with dried fruits, nuts and boiled eggs.

Koftas were most likely introduced into South Asia following the Turkic conquests in the region, particularly by the Mughals. Koftas in South Asian cuisine are normally cooked in a spiced gravy, or curry, and sometimes simmered with hard-boiled eggs. Vegetarian koftas are eaten by a large population in India. The British Scotch egg (boiled egg encased in sausage meat and deep fried) may have been inspired by the Mughlai dish Nargisi kofta (“Narcissus kofta”), where hard-boiled eggs are encased in a layer of spicy kofta meat. In Bengal koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or goat meat. In Kashmir, mutton is often used in the preparation of koftas, as opposed to beef or lamb.

Lamb Kofta

Ingredients

For the meatballs

1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 cm fresh ginger, peeled
1-2 green chilles, chopped
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
4 tbsp desiccated coconut
350g ground lamb

For the curry sauce

vegetable oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
400g can chopped tomatoes

Garnish

natural yogurt
lime wedges

Instructions

Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant. Blend the garlic cloves, ginger, chilles and shallot to a paste in a blender or food processor, then mix the paste with the toasted fennel, coconut, and ground lamb. Roll into 20 balls, and chill for at least one hour.

Sauté  the shallot, fresh ginger, garam masala and ground turmeric for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Add the meatballs, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drizzle a little natural yogurt over the sauce and serve the kofta with lime wedges, steamed rice, flat bread and extra yogurt.

Jul 302016
 

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According to well certified documents, the city of Baghdad was founded on this date in 762.  The founding of Baghdad was a milestone in the history of urban design and a landmark in cultural history. A city was born that would quickly become the cultural lodestar of the Old World. It horrifies me to think what the name Baghdad conjures up nowadays – war, famine, pestilence, horror. For me as a boy it was (and is still) the city of 1,001 Nights, of magic lamps and flying carpets. It was a center of learning that scholars gravitated towards. It was a great jewel that was much more magnificent than anything Westerners could conceive, let alone build. Yet now ignorant Westerners (which I hope is not the majority) look down on large swathes of the Middle East, cast aspersions on their culture, and drop bombs on their people. I’m not saying that living under a caliph in the 8th century was a picnic.  But would you rather live in Baghdad under a caliph, or in Europe under the warmongering, illiterate Charlemagne whose greatest educational triumph was being able to write a capital “C” (his initial) on his thumbnail when he was an old man?

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After the fall of the Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty, the victorious Abbasid rulers wanted their own capital to rule from. Choosing a site north of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (and also just north of where ancient Babylon once stood), the caliph Al-Mansur commissioned the construction of Baghdad. Once Al-Mansur had chosen the site, he supervised the design. He had workers trace the plans of his round city on the ground in lines of cinders. The perfect circle was a tribute to the geometric teachings of Euclid, whom he had studied and admired. He then walked through this ground-level plan, indicated his approval and ordered cotton balls soaked in naphtha (liquid petroleum) to be placed along the outlines and set alight to mark the position of the massively fortified double outer walls.

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On 30 July 762, after the royal astrologers had declared this the most auspicious date for building work to begin, Mansur offered up a prayer to Allah, laid the ceremonial first brick and ordered the assembled workers to get to work. The scale of this great urban project is one of the most distinctive aspects of the history of Baghdad. With a circumference of four miles, the massive brick walls rising up from the banks of the Tigris were the defining signature of Mansur’s Round City. According to 11th-century scholar Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi whose History of Baghdad is our chief source – each course consisted of 162,000 bricks for the first third of the wall’s height, 150,000 for the second third and 140,000 for the final section, bonded together with bundles of reeds. The outer wall was 80ft high, crowned with battlements and flanked by bastions. A deep moat ringed the outer wall perimeter.

The workforce itself was enormous. Thousands of architects and engineers, legal experts, surveyors and carpenters, blacksmiths, and laborers were recruited from across the Abbasid empire. First they surveyed, measured and excavated the foundations. Then, using the sun-baked and kiln-fired bricks that had always been the main building material on the river-flooded Mesopotamian plains in the absence of stone quarries (think the Tower of Babel), they raised the fortress-like city walls brick by brick. This was by far the greatest construction project in the Islamic world, with as many as 100,000 workers involved. The circular design was supposedly innovative (according to Al-Khatib), although there is archeological evidence of other, earlier circular cities. Four equidistant gates pierced the outer walls where straight roads led to the center of the city. The Kufa Gate to the south-west and the Basra Gate to the south-east both opened on to the Sarat canal – a key part of the network of waterways that drained the waters of the Euphrates into the Tigris and made this site so attractive.

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The city’s growth was helped by its excellent location, based on at least two factors: it had control over strategic military and trading routes along the Tigris and had abundant water in a dry climate. There were water supplies on both the north and south ends of the city, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply: most uncommon for any city at this time.

Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located some 30 km (19 mi) to the southeast. Today, all that remains of Ctesiphon is the shrine town of Salman Pak, just to the south of Greater Baghdad. Ctesiphon itself had replaced and absorbed Seleucia, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire. Seleucia had earlier replaced the city of Babylon.

The bricks used to make the city were 18 inches (460 mm) on all four sides. Marble was also used to make buildings throughout the city, and marble steps led down to the river’s edge. The city consisted of two large semicircles about 19 km (12 mi) in diameter. The city was designed as a circle about 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter, leading it to be known as the “Round City”. The original design shows as single ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring inside the first. Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and promenades. In the center of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities were designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.

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The four surrounding walls of Baghdad were named Kufa, Basra, Khurasan, and Syria; named because their gates pointed in the directions of these destinations. The distance between these gates was a little less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi). Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them.  The walls were 30 m high, and included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures. In fact there was a double outer wall surrounded by a moat.

In the middle of Baghdad, in the central square was the Golden Gate Palace. The Palace was the residence of the caliph and his family. In the central part of the building was a green dome that was 39 m high. Surrounding the palace was an esplanade, a waterside building, in which only the caliph could come riding on horseback. In addition, the palace was near other mansions and officers’ residences. Near the Gate of Syria a building served as the home for the guards. It was made of brick and marble. The palace governor lived in the back part of the building and the commander of the guards in the front.

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Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. Scholars headed to Baghdad from all over the Abbasid Caliphate, facilitating the introduction of Persian, Greek and Indian science into the Arabic and Islamic world at that time. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it was rivaled by Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak.

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Among the notable features of Baghdad during this period were its exceptional libraries. Many of the Abbasid caliphs were patrons of learning and enjoyed collecting both ancient and contemporary literature. Although some of the princes of the previous Umayyad dynasty had begun to gather and translate Greek scientific literature, the Abbasids were the first to foster Greek learning on a large scale. Many of these libraries were private collections intended only for the use of the owners and their immediate friends, but the libraries of the caliphs and other officials soon took on a public or a semi-public character. Four great libraries were established in Baghdad during this period. The earliest was that of the famous Al Mamun, who was caliph from 813 to 833. Another was established by Sabur Ibn Ardashir in 991 or 993 for the scholars who frequented his academy. Unfortunately, this second library was plundered and burned by the Seljuks only seventy years after it was established. This was a good example of the sort of library built up out of the needs and interests of a literary society. The last two were examples of madrasa or theological college libraries. The Nizamiyah was founded by the Persian Nizam al Mulk, who was vizier of two early Seljuk sultans. It continued to operate even after the coming of the Mongols in 1258. The Mustansiriyah madrasa, which owned an exceedingly rich library, was founded by Al Mustansir, the second to last Abbasid caliph, who died in 1242. This would prove to be the last great library built by the caliphs of Baghdad.

The death struggle between the Islamic empires of the East and the Christian empires of the West waged on in earnest for several centuries, with the Jews caught in the middle. I wonder when the great cultures of the peoples of the books of Abraham will learn to live in harmony. Not in my lifetime, I fear.

Getting at what exactly Persians ate in the 8th century is next to impossible, although we can hazard a guess. Iranian food today has ancient roots, obviously, but it is an eclectic mix. Curiously, our old pal Apicius and his De re coquinaria might come to our aid. This is a 5th century Roman cookbook of course, but it does contain a few recipes which he calls “Parthian” – i.e. Persian. Here’s Parthian lamb:

Haedun sive agnum particum: Mittes in furnum. Teres piper, rutam, cepam, satureiam, damascena enucleata, laseris midicum, vinum, liquamen et oleum. Fervens collitur in disco, ex aceto sumitur. (Apicius 3.6.5)

True to form this is not much to go on, but it’s a start. Basically it tells you to put a whole lamb in an oven and make a sauce with pepper, rue, onion, savory, pitted prunes, asafetida, wine, liquamen, and oil.

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I don’t have the ingredients to experiment with this recipe right now, nor the guests to serve it to – a whole roast lamb feeds a bunch. I’d more than likely use a leg of lamb anyway, but you’re still talking about 4 – 6. What’s more, it’s stinking hot and humid right now in Mantua, so I’m not about to roast anything. The sauce seems to be a classic Eastern blend of sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty, so I will give it a try at some point. Getting the proportions right for modern taste buds is going to be a challenge.

Aug 192015
 

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Afghan Independence Day is celebrated in Afghanistan on this day to commemorate the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919. The treaty granted complete independence from Britain; although Afghanistan was never a part of the British Empire. The British fought three wars with Afghanistan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) led to the defeat of the entire British-led Indian invaders by Afghan forces under Akbar Khan somewhere along the Kabul-Jalalabad Road, near the city of Jalalabad. After this defeat, the British-led forces returned to Afghanistan on a special mission to rescue their prisoners of war but quickly made a complete withdrawal.

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The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) first began with a British defeat followed by their victory at the Battle of Kandahar, which, in turn led to Abdur Rahman Khan becoming the new emir and the start of friendly British-Afghan relations. The British were given control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs in exchange for protection against the Russians and Persians.

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The Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 led the British to give up control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs.

For well over a century Afghanistan has been politically unstable and grindingly poor. The reason are not hard to understand but the solutions are very difficult to find. Foremost is the presence of conflict, both internal and external. Internal conflict arises from issues I have talked about many times before. The nation of Afghanistan is a conglomeration of ethnicities bound together politically by certain accidents of history, but usually at each other’s throats. Outside invasion has been a fact of life for centuries.

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The country sits at a crossroads where numerous civilizations have interacted and often fought. It has been home to various peoples through the ages, among them the ancient Iranian peoples who established the dominant role of Indo-Iranian languages in the region. At many times, the land has been part of large regional empires, among them the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Indian Maurya Empire, and the Islamic Empire.

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Many kingdoms have also risen to power in Afghanistan, such as the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Kabul Shahis, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Khiljis, Kartids, Timurids, Mughals, and finally the Hotak and Durrani dynasties that were the foundation of the modern state. The formation of modern Afghanistan mirrors the creation of nation states in Europe and Africa out of diverse ethnicities, with all the attendant turbulence, but magnified. Modern major powers, such as Russia and the U.S., who believe they can come in and sort things out by imposing their will through sheer overwhelming might need to pay more attention to the history books.

Afghanistan is surprisingly uniform culturally despite its ethnic and linguistic diversity. The majority of Afghans are Muslim (although with some diversity in interpretation), dress similarly, listen to the same music, share a generally similar worldview, and enjoy the same foods. In the southern and eastern region, as well as western Pakistan which was historically part of Afghanistan, the Pashtun people dominate. The western, northern, and central regions of Afghanistan are influenced by neighboring Central Asian and Persian cultures. Afghans living in cities, particularly Kabul, are further influenced to some degree by Indian culture through Bollywood films and music.

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Afghanistan has long been famous for carpet making. One of the most exotic and distinctive of all oriental rugs is the Shindand or Adraskan (named after local Afghan towns), woven in the Herat Province, in western Afghanistan. Strangely elongated human and animal figures are their signature look. The carpet can be sold across Afghanistan with the most based in Mazar-e Sharif. Another staple of Afghanistan is the Baluchi rug, most notably Baluchi prayer rugs. They are made by Afghanistan’s Baloch people in the south-western part of the country.

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Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation’s chief crops, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and whey. Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan. Kabuli Palaw, also called Qabili Pulao or simply pilav, is an pilaf dish consisting of steamed rice mixed with raisins, carrots, and lamb. Kabuli Palaw is made by cooking basmati or long grained rice in a brothy sauce (which makes the rice brown). This dish may be made with lamb, chicken, or beef, but lamb is preferred. I like to use shanks but any cut is all right. Meaty lamb neck is flavorful. You can also use goat. Kabuli Palaw is finished off by being baked in the oven and may be topped with fried sliced carrots, raisins, orange peel strips, and chopped nuts such as pistachios or almonds. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the rice mixture.

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Kabuli Palaw

Ingredients

4 lbs lamb
2 large onions, sliced
salt
3 pints hot light stock
1½ lb cooked basmati or long grain rice

Sauce

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 carrots, cooked and shredded
½ cup raisins
½ cup pistachios or slivered almonds
1 orange peel cut in julienne strips

Instructions

Simmer the lamb and onions, in light stock for about 2 hours, or until very tender.

Remove and cool the lamb, reserving the stock. Remove any bones from the lamb breaking the meat in large pieces.

Sauté the carrots in a little butter until lightly browned. Set aside.

For the stock sauce, brown the onions in butter in a large, deep skillet and then remove from the heat.

Add the cardamom and cumin and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon together with onion to form a paste.

Add about 1 pt of the lamb stock and simmer for a few minutes stirring with a whisk to combine.

Put the cooked rice, stock sauce and lamb into a large lidded casserole. Place the carrots, raisins, orange peel, and nuts on top. Cover and cook in the oven for about 35 to 45 minutes at 325°F. Add a little extra stock if it dries too much.

To serve fluff the rice and all the ingredients together and mound on a heated serving platter.

Aug 092015
 

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Today is the birthday (1757) of Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE, a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder. After establishing himself as an engineer of road and canal projects in Shropshire, he designed numerous infrastructure projects in his native Scotland, as well as harbors and tunnels. Such was his reputation as a prolific designer of highways and related bridges, he was dubbed The Colossus of Roads, and, reflecting his command of all types of civil engineering in the early 19th century, he was elected as the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a post he retained for 14 years until his death. Telford is not as well known as his younger contemporary, Brunel (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/isambard-kingdom-brunel/ ), and the two men were rivals. But Telford’s designs are equally varied and remarkable.

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Telford was born on 9 August 1757 at Glendinning, a hill farm 3 miles west of Eskdalemuir Kirk, in the rural parish of Westerkirk, in Eskdale, Dumfriesshire. His father John Telford, a shepherd, died soon after Thomas was born. Thomas was raised in poverty by his mother Janet Jackson (died 1794). At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and some of his earliest work can still be seen on the bridge across the River Esk in Langholm in the Scottish borders. He worked for a time in Edinburgh and in 1782 he moved to London where, after meeting architects Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers, he was involved in building additions to Somerset House there. Two years later he found work at Portsmouth dockyard and — although still largely self-taught — was extending his talents to the specification, design and management of building projects.

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In 1787, through his wealthy patron William Pulteney, he became Surveyor of Public Works in Shropshire. Civil engineering was a discipline still in its infancy, so Telford was set on establishing himself as an architect. His projects included renovation of Shrewsbury Castle, the town’s prison (during the planning of which he met leading prison reformer John Howard), the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorth and another church, St Michael, in Madeley. Called in to advise on a leaking roof at St Chad’s Church Shrewsbury in 1788, he warned the church was in imminent danger of collapse; his reputation was made locally when it collapsed 3 days later, but he was not the architect for its replacement.

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As the Shropshire county surveyor, Telford was also responsible for bridges. In 1790 he designed a bridge carrying the London-Holyhead road over the River Severn at Montford, the first of some 40 bridges he built in Shropshire, including major crossings of the Severn at Buildwas, and Bridgnorth. The bridge at Buildwas was Telford’s first iron bridge. He was influenced by Abraham Darby’s bridge at Ironbridge, and observed that it was grossly over-designed for its function, and many of the component parts were poorly cast. By contrast, his bridge was 30 ft (10 m) wider in span and half the weight, although it now no longer exists. He was one of the first engineers to test his materials thoroughly before construction. As his engineering prowess grew, Telford was to return to this material repeatedly.

In 1795 the bridge at Bewdley in Worcestershire was swept away in the winter floods and Telford was responsible for the design of its replacement. The same winter floods saw the bridge at Tenbury also swept away. This bridge across the River Teme was the joint responsibility of both Worcestershire and Shropshire and the bridge has a bend where the two counties meet. Telford was responsible for the repair to the northern (Shropshire) end of the bridge.

Telford’s reputation in Shropshire led to his appointment in 1793 to manage the detailed design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal, linking the ironworks and collieries of Wrexham via the north-west Shropshire town of Ellesmere, with Chester, using the existing Chester Canal, and then the River Mersey.

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Among other structures, this involved the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee in the Vale of Llangollen, where Telford used a new method of construction consisting of troughs made from cast iron plates and fixed in masonry. Extending for over 1,000 feet (300 m) with an altitude of 126 feet (38 m) above the valley floor, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct consists of nineteen arches, each with a forty-five foot span. Being a pioneer in the use of cast-iron for large scaled structures, Telford had to invent new techniques, such as using boiling sugar and lead as a sealant on the iron connections. Eminent canal engineer William Jessop oversaw the project, but he left the detailed execution of the project in Telford’s hands. The aqueduct has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The same period also saw Telford involved in the design and construction of the Shrewsbury Canal. When the original engineer, Josiah Clowes, died in 1795, Telford succeeded him. One of Telford’s achievements on this project was the design of the cast-iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern, pre-dating that at Pontcysyllte, and substantially bigger than the UK’s first cast-iron aqueduct, built by Benjamin Outram on the Derby Canal just months earlier. The aqueduct is no longer in use, but is preserved as a distinctive piece of canal engineering.

The Ellesmere Canal was completed in 1805 and alongside his canal responsibilities, Telford’s reputation as a civil engineer meant he was constantly consulted on numerous other projects. These included water supply works for Liverpool, improvements to London’s docklands and the rebuilding of London Bridge (c.1800). Most notably (and again William Pulteney was influential), in 1801 Telford devised a master plan to improve communications in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive project that was to last some 20 years. It included the building of the Caledonian Canal along the Great Glen and redesign of sections of the Crinan Canal, some 920 miles (1,480 km) of new roads, over a thousand new bridges (including the Craigellachie Bridge), numerous harbour improvements (including works at Aberdeen, Dundee, Peterhead, Wick, Portmahomack and Banff), and 32 new churches.

Telford also undertook highway works in the Scottish Lowlands, including 184 miles (296 km) of new roads and numerous bridges, ranging from a 112 ft (34 m) span stone bridge across the Dee at Tongueland in Kirkcudbright (1805–06) to the 129 ft (39 m) tall Cartland Crags bridge near Lanark (1822).

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Telford was consulted in 1806 by the King of Sweden about the construction of a canal between Gothenburg and Stockholm. His plans were adopted and construction of the Göta Canal began in 1810. Telford travelled to Sweden at that time to oversee some of the more important initial excavations.

Many of Telford’s projects were undertaken due to his role as a member of the Exchequer Bill Loan Commission, set up under the Poor Employment Act of 1817, to help finance public work projects that would generate employment.

During his later years, Telford was responsible for rebuilding sections of the London to Holyhead road, a task completed by his assistant of ten years, John MacNeill; today, much of the route is the A5 trunk road, although the Holyhead Road diverted off the A5 along what is now parts of A45, A41 and A464 through the cities of Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Between London and Shrewsbury, most of the work amounted to improvements. Beyond Shrewsbury, and especially beyond Llangollen, the work often involved building a highway from scratch. Notable features of this section of the route include the Waterloo Bridge across the River Conwy at Betws-y-Coed, the ascent from there to Capel Curig and then the descent from the pass of Nant Ffrancon towards Bangor. Between Capel Curig and Bethesda, in the Ogwen Valley, Telford deviated from the original road, built by Romans during their occupation of this area.

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On the island of Anglesey a new embankment across the Stanley Sands to Holyhead was constructed, but the crossing of the Menai Strait was the most formidable challenge, overcome by the Menai Suspension Bridge (1819–26). Spanning 580 feet (180 m), this was the longest suspension bridge of the time. Unlike modern suspension bridges, Telford used individually linked 9.5-foot (2.9 m) iron eye bars for the cables.

Telford also worked on the North Wales coast road between Chester and Bangor, including another major suspension bridge at Conwy, opened later the same year as its Menai counterpart.

Further afield Telford designed a road to cross the centre of the Isle of Arran. Named the ‘String road’, this route traverses bleak and difficult terrain to allow traffic to cross between east and west Arran avoiding the circuitous coastal route. His work on improving the Glasgow – Carlisle road, later to become the A74, has been described as “a model for future engineers.” Telford improved on methods for the building of macadam roads by improving the selection of stone based on thickness, taking into account traffic, alignment and slopes.

The punning nickname Colossus of Roads was given to Telford by his friend, the eventual Poet Laureate, Robert Southey. Telford’s reputation as a man of letters may have preceded his fame as an engineer: he had published poetry between 1779 and 1784, and an account of a tour of Scotland with Southey. His will left bequests to Southey (who would later write Telford’s biography), the poet Thomas Campbell (1777–1844) and to the publishers of the Edinburgh Encyclopædia (to which he had been a contributor).

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An Act of Parliament in 1823 provided a grant of £50,000 for the building of up to 40 churches and manses in communities without any church buildings (hence the alternative name: ‘Parliamentary Church’ or ‘Parliamentary Kirk’).[6] The total cost was not to exceed £1500 on any site and Telford was commissioned to undertake the design. He developed a simple church of T-shaped plan and two manse designs – a single-storey and a two-storey, adaptable to site and ground conditions, and to brick or stone construction, at £750 each. Of the 43 churches originally planned, 32 were eventually built around the Scottish highlands and islands (the other 11 were achieved by redoing existing buildings). The last of these churches was built in 1830.

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Other works by Telford include the St Katharine Docks (1824–28) close to Tower Bridge in central London, where he worked with the architect Philip Hardwick, the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal (today known as the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal), Over Bridge near Gloucester, the second Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal (1827), and the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (today part of the Shropshire Union Canal) — started in May 1826 but finished, after Telford’s death, in January 1835. At the time of its construction in 1829, Galton Bridge was the longest single span in the world. He also built Whitstable harbour in Kent in 1832, in connection with the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway with an unusual system for flushing out mud using a tidal reservoir. He also completed the Grand Trunk after James Brindley died due to being over-worked.

Telford’s young draughtsman and clerk from 1830 to 1834, George Turnbull, wrote in his diary:

On the 23rd [August 1834] Mr Telford was taken seriously ill of a bilious derangement to which he had been liable … he grew worse and worse … [surgeons] attended him twice a day, but it was to no avail for he died on the 2nd September, very peacefully at about 5pm. … His old servant James Handscombe and I were the only two in the house [24 Abingdon Street, London] when he died. He was never married. Mr Milne and Mr Rickman were, no doubt, Telford’s most intimate friends. … I went to Mr Milne and under his direction … made all the arrangements about the house and correspondence. … Telford had no blood relations that we knew of. The funeral took place on the 10th September [in Westminster Abbey]. … Mr Telford was of the most genial disposition and a delightful companion, his laugh was the heartiest I ever heard; it was a pleasure to be in his society.

In his autobiography https://books.google.com.hk/books?id=xkVVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA300&dq=thomas+telford+favorite+food&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAmoVChMIu62o8d2axwIVBwqOCh0W3gw9#v=onepage&q=thomas%20telford%20favorite%20food&f=false Telford mentions roads and canals in connexion with the transportation of food to market. He also talks about the benefits of keeping sheep in the Highlands. Here’s lamb stovies, a splendid traditional Highlands dish of layered root vegetables and lamb. Lamb, potatoes and leeks. Where can you go wrong? As the name hints, you can make these in similar fashion on the stove top, or in a slow cooker. I prefer the oven.  You can use beef instead of lamb if you like.

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Lamb Stovies

Ingredients

450g lean boneless lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut in cubes
vegetable oil
750g potatoes, peeled and sliced
350g turnips or swede, peeled and sliced
2 large leeks, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
3 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
lamb stock, pre-heated

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the lamb until browned on all sides. Set aside.

Cover the base of a 2 liter lidded casserole dish with slightly overlapping potato slices. Top with a layer of turnips (or Swedes), then a layer of leeks. Sprinkle to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper as well as the thyme and most of the parsley.

Add in the browned lamb spread evenly.

Add on a layer of leeks then turnips. Finish with an overlapping layer of potatoes.

Finish with the remaining potato slices, arranging them so that they overlap slightly. Pour in stock, but do not cover the top potatoes.

Cover tightly and bake for 2 hours.

Serve in the casserole garnished with the remaining parsley.

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Apr 022015
 

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Today is the birthday (1827) of William Holman Hunt OM, English painter, and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He formed the Pre-Raphaelite movement in 1848, after meeting the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Along with John Everett Millais they sought to revitalize art by emphasizing the detailed observation of the natural world in a spirit of quasi-religious devotion to truth. This religious approach was influenced by the spiritual qualities of medieval art, in opposition to the alleged rationalism of the Renaissance embodied by Raphael (hence Pre-Raphaelite).

Hunt married twice. After a failed engagement to his model Annie Miller, he married Fanny Waugh, who later modeled for the figure of Isabella. When she died in childbirth in Italy he sculpted her tomb at Fiesole, having it brought down to the English Cemetery, beside the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. His second wife, Edith, was Fanny’s sister. At this time it was illegal in Britain to marry one’s deceased wife’s sister, so Hunt was forced to travel abroad to marry her. This led to a serious breach with other family members, notably his former Pre-Raphaelite colleague Thomas Woolner, who had once been in love with Fanny and had married Alice, the third sister of Fanny and Edith.

Hunt’s works were not initially successful, and were widely attacked in the art press for their alleged clumsiness and ugliness. He achieved some early note for his intensely naturalistic scenes of modern rural and urban life, such as The Hireling Shepherd and The Awakening Conscience. However, it was with his religious paintings that he became famous, initially The Light of the World (1851–1853), now in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford; a later version (1900) toured the world and now has its home in St Paul’s Cathedral.

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In the mid-1850s Hunt traveled to the Holy Land in search of accurate topographical and ethnographical material for further religious works, and to “use my powers to make more tangible Jesus Christ’s history and teaching,” there he painted The Scapegoat, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple and The Shadow of Death, along with many landscapes of the region. Hunt also painted many works based on poems, such as Isabella and The Lady of Shalot. He eventually built his own house in Jerusalem.

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He eventually had to give up painting because failing eyesight meant that he could not get the level of quality that he wanted. His last major works, The Lady of Shalott and a large version of The Light of the World were completed with the help of his assistant Edward Robert Hughes.

His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid color and elaborate symbolism. These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs. For Hunt it was the duty of the artist to reveal the correspondence between sign and fact. Out of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximize the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.

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Many of Hunt’s paintings were overtly Christian, such as The Light of the World and the Importunate Neighbour, being taken directly from Biblical verses. But many, many more are generally spiritual or moralistic with the messages conveyed through elaborate symbolism.

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The Awakening Conscience (1853) is a typical example. It depicts a young woman rising from her position in the lap of a man and gazing transfixed out of the window of a room. Initially the painting would appear to be one of a momentary disagreement between husband and wife, or brother and sister, but the title and a host of symbols within the painting make it clear that this is a mistress and her lover. The woman’s clasped hands provide a focal point and the position of her left hand emphasizes the absence of a wedding ring. Around the room are dotted reminders of her “kept” status and her wasted life: the cat beneath the table toying with a bird; the clock concealed under glass; a tapestry which hangs unfinished on the piano; the threads which lie unraveled on the floor; the print of Frank Stone’s Cross Purposes on the wall; Edward Lear’s musical arrangement of Tennyson’s poem “Tears, Idle Tears” which lies discarded on the floor, and the music on the piano, Thomas Moore’s “Oft in the Stilly Night”, the words of which speak of missed opportunities and sad memories of a happier past. The discarded glove and top hat thrown on the table top suggest a hurried assignation. The room is too cluttered and gaudy to be in a Victorian family home; the bright colors, unscuffed carpet, and pristine, highly-polished furniture speak of a room recently furnished for a mistress. Art historian Elizabeth Prettejohn notes that although the interior is now viewed as “Victorian” it still exudes the “‘nouveau-riche’ vulgarity” that would have made the setting distasteful to contemporary viewers. The painting’s frame is decorated with further symbols: bells (for warning), marigolds (for sorrow), and a star above the girl’s head (a sign of spiritual revelation). It also bears a verse from the Book of Proverbs (25:20): “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart”.

The mirror on the rear wall provides a tantalizing glimpse out of the scene. The window — opening out onto a spring garden, in direct contrast to the images of entrapment within the room — is flooded with sunlight. The woman’s face does not display a look of shock that she has been surprised with her lover; whatever attracts her is outside of both the room and her relationship. The Athenæum commented in 1854:

The author of “The Bridge of Sighs” could not have conceived a more painful-looking face. The details of the picture, the reflection of the spring trees in the mirror, the piano, the bronze under the lamp, are wonderfully true, but the dull indigoes and reds of the picture make it melancholy and appropriate, and not pleasing in tone. The sentiment is of the Ernest Maltravers School: to those who have an affinity for it, painful; to those who have not, repulsive.

The model for the girl was Annie Miller, who sat for many of the Pre-Raphaelites and to whom Hunt was engaged until 1859. The male figure may be based on Thomas Seddon or Augustus Egg, both painter friends of Hunt. The look on the girl’s face in the modern painting is not the look of pain and horror that viewers saw when the painting was first exhibited, and which shocked and repulsed many of the contemporary critics. The painting was commissioned by Thomas Fairbairn, a Manchester industrialist and patron of the Pre-Raphaelites who later succeeded his father as 2nd Baronet, after Egg discussed Hunt’s ideas and possibly showed him some of the initial sketches. Fairbairn paid Hunt 350 guineas. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854, along with The Light of the World. Fairbairn found himself unable to bear looking on the woman’s expression day-to-day, so persuaded Hunt to soften it. Hunt started work but fell ill and allowed the painting to be returned to Fairbairn for display at the Birmingham Society of Artists exhibition in 1856 before he was completely happy with the result. Later he was able to work on it again and confided to Edward Lear that he thought he had “materially bettered it.” As noted in the spandrels, Hunt retouched the painting in 1864 and again in 1886 when he repaired some work that had been carried out by a restorer in the interim.

The Victorian art theorist John Ruskin praised The Awakening Conscience as an example of a new direction in British art in which the narrative was created from the artist’s imagination rather than chronicling an event. Ruskin’s reading of the painting was also to a moral end. In an 1854 letter to The Times defending the work, he claimed that there is “not a single object in all that room…but it becomes tragical if read rightly.” He was struck by both the stark realism of the room — Hunt had hired a room in a “maison de covenance” (where lovers would take their mistresses) in order to capture the feeling — and the symbolic overtones and compared the revelation of the subjects’ characters through the interiors favorably with that of William Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-mode. The “common, modern, vulgar” interior is overwhelmed by lustrous, unworn objects that will never be part of a home. To Ruskin, the exquisite detail of the painting only called attention to the inevitable ruin of the couple: “The very hem of the poor girl’s dress, at which the painter has labored so closely, thread by thread, has story in it, if we think how soon its pure whiteness may be soiled with dust and rain, her outcast feet failing in the street.” The idea of a visual morality tale, based on a single moment, influenced Augustus Egg’s 1858 series of three paintings, Past and Present.

hh6  hh2

Sheep feature very commonly as symbols of innocence in Hunt’s work, sometimes in contrast with corrupt humans. Sheep are shown as being astray because their shepherds, who should be looking after them, are engaged in corrupt activities. The Hireling Shepherd is the classic example, where the sheep are left untended by the shepherd who is seducing a young woman instead of performing his job.

This then leads me to a consideration of lamb and mutton. Lamb is, without doubt, my favorite meat. I’m not sure about mutton because I have never tried it – it is very hard to find. I cook lamb in just about every conceivable way: roast leg, shoulder, and loin, braised breast or shank, shepherd’s pie, sheep’s head soup, Scotch broth, grilled chops, curry, fried kidneys, tripe in 100 ways, baked ribs, neck bone stew . . . and on and on.

Lamb was plentiful and cheap when I lived in South Australia; the local butcher had his own flock, and there were dozens of sheep pastures right beside where we lived. Roast shoulder or leg of lamb was our constant Sunday dinner. Once a year my father made a haggis (boiled in a sheep’s stomach). Once in a while we had sheep’s tripe or brains, which I detested then, but love now.

hh18

For me nothing can beat roast leg of lamb. I slice several cloves of garlic thin and insert the slices into knife slits under the skin – as many as you can make. I roast the leg at 450°F in a roasting pan with potatoes and leeks, for about an hour, basting frequently. The meat should be pink, but not too bloody. Towards the end I make a gravy with the drippings and flour plus stock, and seasoned with garlic and rosemary. Fresh peas make a suitable vegetable accompaniment.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts and recipes from Mrs Beeton, contemporary with Holman Hunt. For a complete transcription of chapters XIV (general observations) and XV (recipes) on mutton and lamb go here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10136/pg10136.html

CHAPTER XIV.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE SHEEP AND LAMB.

678. OF ALL WILD or DOMESTICATED ANIMALS, the sheep is, without exception, the most useful to man as a food, and the most necessary to his health and comfort; for it not only supplies him with the lightest and most nutritious of meats, but, in the absence of the cow, its udder yields him milk, cream, and a sound though inferior cheese; while from its fat he obtains light, and from its fleece broadcloth, kerseymere, blankets, gloves, and hose. Its bones when burnt make an animal charcoal—ivory black—to polish his boots, and when powdered, a manure for the cultivation of his wheat; the skin, either split or whole, is made into a mat for his carriage, a housing for his horse, or a lining for his hat, and many other useful purposes besides, being extensively employed in the manufacture of parchment; and finally, when oppressed by care and sorrow, the harmonious strains that carry such soothing contentment to the heart, are elicited from the musical strings, prepared almost exclusively from the intestines of the sheep.

Suffolk

Suffolk

South Down

South Down

Cheviot

Cheviot

Blackface

Blackface

682. NO OTHER ANIMAL, even of the same order, possesses in so remarkable a degree the power of converting pasture into flesh as the Leicestershire sheep; the South Down and Cheviot, the two next breeds in quality, are, in consequence of the greater vivacity of the animal’s nature, not equal to it in that respect, though in both the brain and chest are kept subservient to the greater capacity of the organs of digestion. Besides the advantage of increased bulk and finer fleeces, the breeder seeks to obtain an augmented deposit of tissue in those parts of the carcase most esteemed as food, or, what are called in the trade “prime joints;” and so far has this been effected, that the comparative weight of the hind quarters over the fore has become a test of quality in the breed, the butchers in some markets charging twopence a pound more for that portion of the sheep. Indeed, so superior are the hind quarters of mutton now regarded, that very many of the West-end butchers never deal in any other part of the sheep.

693. DIFFERENT NAMES HAVE BEEN GIVEN to sheep by their breeders, according to their age and sex. The male is called a ram, or tup; after weaning, he is said to be a hog, or hogget, or a lamb-hog, tup-hog, or teg; later he is a wether, or wether-hog; after the first shearing, a shearing, or dinmont; and after each succeeding shearing, a two, three, or four-shear ram, tup, or wether, according to circumstances. The female is called a ewe, or gimmer-lamb, till weaned, when she becomes, according to the shepherd’s nomenclature, a gimmer-ewe, hog, or teg; after shearing, a gimmer or shearing-ewe, or theave; and in future a two, three, or four-shear ewe, or theave.

[All across Britain there are counting systems shepherds used to count their sheep. Go here for a complete survey http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yan_tan_tethera]

696. THE GENTLE AND TIMID DISPOSITION of the sheep, and its defenceless condition, must very early have attached it to man for motives less selfish than either its fleece or its flesh; for it has been proved beyond a doubt that, obtuse as we generally regard it, it is susceptible of a high degree of domesticity, obedience, and affection. In many parts of Europe, where the flocks are guided by the shepherd’s voice alone, it is no unusual thing for a sheep to quit the herd when called by its name, and follow the keeper like a dog. In the mountains of Scotland, when a flock is invaded by a savage dog, the rams have been known to form the herd into a circle, and placing themselves on the outside line, keep the enemy at bay, or charging on him in a troop, have despatched him with their horns.

697. THE VALUE OF THE SHEEP seems to have been early understood by Adam in his fallen state; his skin not only affording him protection for his body, but a covering for his tent; and accordingly, we find Abel intrusted with this portion of his father’s stock; for the Bible tells us that “Abel was a keeper of sheep.” What other animals were domesticated at that time we can only conjecture, or at what exact period the flesh of the sheep was first eaten for food by man, is equally, if not uncertain, open to controversy. For though some authorities maintain the contrary, it is but natural to suppose that when Abel brought firstlings of his flock, “and the fat thereof,” as a sacrifice, the less dainty portions, not being oblations, were hardly likely to have been flung away as refuse. Indeed, without supposing Adam and his descendants to have eaten animal food, we cannot reconcile the fact of Jubal Cain, Cain’s son, and his family, living in tents, as they are reported to have done, knowing that both their own garments and the coverings of the tents, were made from the hides and skins of the animals they bred; for the number of sheep and oxen slain for oblations only, would not have supplied sufficient material for two such necessary purposes. The opposite opinion is, that animal food was not eaten till after the Flood, when the Lord renewed his covenant with Noah. From Scriptural authority we learn many interesting facts as regards the sheep: the first, that mutton fat was considered the most delicious portion of any meat, and the tail and adjacent part the most exquisite morsel in the whole body; consequently, such were regarded as especially fit for the offer of sacrifice. From this fact we may reasonably infer that the animal still so often met with in Palestine and Syria, and known as the Fat-tailed sheep, was in use in the days of the patriarchs, though probably not then of the size and weight it now attains to; a supposition that gains greater strength, when it is remembered that the ram Abraham found in the bush, when he went to offer up Isaac, was a horned animal, being entangled in the brake by his curved horns; so far proving that it belonged to the tribe of the Capridae, the fat-tailed sheep appertaining to the same family.

CHAPTER XV.

BOILED BREAST OF MUTTON AND CAPER SAUCE.

704. INGREDIENTS.—Breast of mutton, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoonfuls of minced savoury herbs (put a large proportion of parsley), pepper and salt to taste.

Mode.—Cut off the superfluous fat; bone it; sprinkle over a layer of bread crumbs, minced herbs, and seasoning; roll, and bind it up firmly. Boil gently for 2 hours, remove the tape, and serve with caper sauce, No. 382, a little of which should be poured over the meat.

 Time.—2 hours. Average cost, 6d. per lb.

 Sufficient for 4 or 6 persons.

 Seasonable all the year.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD.—The sheep’s complete dependence upon the shepherd for protection from its numerous enemies is frequently referred to in the Bible; thus the Psalmist likens himself to a lost sheep, and prays the Almighty to seek his servant; and our Saviour, when despatching his twelve chosen disciples to preach the Gospel amongst their unbelieving brethren, compares them to lambs going amongst wolves. The shepherd of the East, by kind treatment, calls forth from his sheep unmistakable signs of affection. The sheep obey his voice and recognize the names by which he calls them, and they follow him in and out of the fold. The beautiful figure of the “good shepherd,” which so often occurs in the New Testament, expresses the tenderness of the Saviour for mankind. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John, x. 11. “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by mine.”—John, x. 14. “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.”—John, x. 16.

VARIOUS QUALITIES OF MUTTON—Mutton is, undoubtedly, the meat most generally used in families; and, both by connoisseurs and medical men, it stands first in favour, whether its the favour, digestible qualifications, or general wholesomeness, be considered. Of all mutton, that furnished by South-Down sheep is the most highly esteemed; it is also the dearest, on account of its scarcity, and the great demand of it. Therefore, if the housekeeper is told by the butcher that he has not any in his shop, it should not occasion disappointment to the purchaser. The London and other markets are chiefly supplied with sheep called half-breeds, which are a cross between the Down and Lincoln or Leicester. These half-breeds make a greater weight of mutton than the true South-Downs, and, for this very desirable qualification, they are preferred by the great sheep-masters. The legs of this mutton range from 7 to 11 lbs. in weight; the shoulders, necks, or loins, about 6 to 9 lbs.; and if care is taken not to purchase it; the shoulders, necks, or loins, about 8 to 9 lbs.; and it cure is taken not to purchase it too fat, it will be found the most satisfactory and economical mutton that can be bought.

SHEPHERDS AND THEIR FLOCKS.—The shepherd’s crook is older than either the husbandman’s plough or the warrior’s sword. We are told that Abel was a keeper of sheep. Many passages in holy writ enable us to appreciate the pastoral riches of the first eastern nations; and we can form an idea of the number of their flocks, when we read that Jacob gave the children of Hamor a hundred sheep for the price of a field, and that the king of Israel received a hundred thousand every year from the king of Moab, his tributary, and a like number of rams covered with their fleece. The tendency which most sheep have to ramble, renders it necessary for them to be attended by a shepherd. To keep a flock within bounds, is no easy task; but the watchful shepherd manages to accomplish it without harassing the sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, where the herbage is scanty, the sheep-farm requires to be very large, and to be watched over by many shepherds. The farms of some of the great Scottish landowners are of enormous extent. “How many sheep have you on your estate?” asked Prince Esterhazy of the duke of Argyll. “I have not the most remote idea,” replied the duke; “but I know the shepherds number several thousands.”

CURRIED MUTTON (Cold Meat Cookery).

713. INGREDIENTS.—The remains of any joint of cold mutton, 2 onions, 1/4 lb. of butter, 1 dessertspoonful of curry powder, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, salt to taste, 1/4 pint of stock or water.

Mode.—Slice the onions in thin rings, and put them into a stewpan with the butter, and fry of a light brown; stir in the curry powder, flour, and salt, and mix all well together. Cut the meat into nice thin slices (if there is not sufficient to do this, it may be minced), and add it to the other ingredients; when well browned, add the stock or gravy, and stew gently for about 1/2 hour. Serve in a dish with a border of boiled rice, the same as for other curries.

Time.—1/2 hour.

Average cost, exclusive of the meat, 6d.

Seasonable in winter.

FRIED KIDNEYS.

725. INGREDIENTS.—Kidneys, butter, pepper and salt to taste.

Mode.—Cut the kidneys open without quite dividing them, remove the skin, and put a small piece of butter in the frying-pan. When the butter is melted, lay in the kidneys the flat side downwards, and fry them for 7 or 8 minutes, turning them when they are half-done. Serve on a piece of dry toast, season with pepper and salt, and put a small piece of butter in each kidney; pour the gravy from the pan over them, and serve very hot.

Time.—7 or 8 minutes.

Average cost, 1-1/2d. each.

Sufficient.—Allow 1 kidney to each person.

Seasonable at any time.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

MUTTON PIE (Cold Meat Cookery).

733. INGREDIENTS.—The remains of a cold leg, loin, or neck of mutton, pepper and salt to taste, 2 blades of pounded mace, 1 dessertspoonful of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoonful of minced savoury herbs; when liked, a little minced onion or shalot; 3 or 4 potatoes, 1 teacupful of gravy; crust.

 

Mode.—Cold mutton may be made into very good pies if well seasoned and mixed with a few herbs; if the leg is used, cut it into very thin slices; if the loin or neck, into thin cutlets. Place some at the bottom of the dish; season well with pepper, salt, mace, parsley, and herbs; then put a layer of potatoes sliced, then more mutton, and so on till the dish is full; add the gravy, cover with a crust, and bake for 1 hour.

 Time.—1 hour.

 Seasonable at any time.

 THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD.—James Hogg was perhaps the most remarkable man that ever wore the maud of a shepherd. Under the garb, aspect, and bearing of a rude peasant (and rude enough he was in most of these hings, even after no inconsiderable experience of society), the world soon discovered a true poet. He taught himself to write, by copying the letters of a printed book as he lay watching his flock on the hillside, and believed that he had reached the utmost pitch of his ambition when he first found that his artless rhymes could touch the heart of the ewe-milker who partook the shelter of his mantle during the passing storm. If “the shepherd” of Professor Wilson’s “Noctes Ambrosianae” may be taken as a true portrait of James Hogg, we must admit that, for quaintness of humour, the poet of Ettrick Forest had few rivals. Sir Walter Scott said that Hogg’s thousand little touches of absurdity afforded him more entertainment than the best comedy that ever set the pit in a roar. Among the written productions of the shepherd-poet, is an account of his own experiences in sheep-tending, called “The Shepherd’s Calender.” This work contains a vast amount of useful information upon sheep, their diseases, habits, and management. The Ettrick Shepherd died in 1835.

[Go here for links to his works http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hogg]

SHEEP’S BRAINS, EN MATELOTE (an Entree).

740. INGREDIENTS.—6 sheep’s brains, vinegar, salt, a few slices of bacon, 1 small onion, 2 cloves, a small bunch of parsley, sufficient stock or weak broth to cover the brains, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice, matelote sauce, No. 512.

Mode.—Detach the brains from the heads without breaking them, and put them into a pan of warm water; remove the skin, and let them remain for two hours. Have ready a saucepan of boiling water, add a little vinegar and salt, and put in the brains. When they are quite firm, take them out and put them into very cold water. Place 2 or 3 slices of bacon in a stewpan, put in the brains, the onion stuck with 2 cloves, the parsley, and a good seasoning of pepper and salt; cover with stock, or weak broth, and boil them gently for about 25 minutes. Have ready some croûtons; arrange these in the dish alternately with the brains, and cover with a matelote sauce, No. 512, to which has been added the above proportion of lemon-juice.

Time.—25 minutes. Average cost, 1s. 6d.

Sufficient for 6 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

SHEEP’S FEET or TROTTERS (Soyer’s Recipe).

741. INGREDIENTS.—12 feet, 1/4 lb. of beef or mutton suet, 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 bay-leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 oz. of salt, 1/4 oz. of pepper, 2 tablespoonfuls of flour, 2-1/2 quarts of water, 1/4 lb. of fresh butter, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1 teaspoonful of flour, 3/4 teaspoonful of pepper, a little grated nutmeg, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 gill of milk, the yolks of 2 eggs.

Mode.—Have the feet cleaned, and the long bone extracted from them. Put the suet into a stewpan, with the onions and carrot sliced, the bay-leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper, and let these simmer for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoonfuls of flour and the water, and keep stirring till it boils; then put in the feet. Let these simmer for 3 hours, or until perfectly tender, and take them and lay them on a sieve. Mix together, on a plate, with the back of a spoon, butter, salt, flour (1 teaspoonful), pepper, nutmeg, and lemon-juice as above, and put the feet, with a gill of milk, into a stewpan. When very hot, add the butter, &c., and stir continually till melted. Now mix the yolks of 2 eggs with 5 tablespoonfuls of milk; stir this to the other ingredients, keep moving the pan over the fire continually for a minute or two, but do not allow it to boil after the eggs are added. Serve in a very hot dish, and garnish with croûtons, or sippets of toasted bread.

Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 1s. 6d.

Sufficient for 4 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

TO DRESS A SHEEP’S HEAD.

742. INGREDIENTS.—1 sheep’s head, sufficient water to cover it, 3 carrots, 3 turnips, 2 or 3 parsnips, 3 onions, a small bunch of parsley, 1 teaspoonful of pepper, 3 teaspoonfuls of salt, 1/4 lb. of Scotch oatmeal.

Mode.—Clean the head well, and let it soak in warm water for 2 hours, to get rid of the blood; put it into a saucepan, with sufficient cold water to cover it, and when it boils, add the vegetables, peeled and sliced, and the remaining ingredients; before adding the oatmeal, mix it to a smooth batter with a little of the liquor. Keep stirring till it boils up; then shut the saucepan closely, and let it stew gently for 1-1/2 or 2 hours. It may be thickened with rice or barley, but oatmeal is preferable.

Time.—1-1/2 or 2 hours. Average cost, 8d. each.

Sufficient for 3 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

THE LAMB AS A SACRIFICE.—The number of lambs consumed in sacrifices by the Hebrews must have been very considerable. Two lambs “of the first year” were appointed to be sacrificed daily for the morning and evening sacrifice; and a lamb served as a substitute for the first-born of unclean animals, such as the ass, which could not be accepted as an offering to the Lord. Every year, also, on the anniversary of the deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, every family was ordered to sacrifice a lamb or kid, and to sprinkle some of its blood upon the door-posts, in commemoration of the judgment of God upon the Egyptians. It was to be eaten roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, in haste, with the loins girded, the shoes on the feet, and the staff in the hand; and whatever remained until the morning was to be burnt. The sheep was also used in the numerous special, individual, and national sacrifices ordered by the Jewish law. On extraordinary occasions, vast quantities of sheep were sacrificed at once; thus Solomon, on the completion of the temple, offered “sheep and oxen that could not be told nor numbered for multitude.”

758. INGREDIENTS.—Sweetbreads, egg and bread crumbs, 1/2 pint of gravy, No. 442, 1/2 glass of sherry.

Mode.—Soak the sweetbreads in water for an hour, and throw them into boiling water to render them firm. Let them stew gently for about 1/4 hour, take them out and put them into a cloth to drain all the water from them. Brush them over with egg, sprinkle them with bread crumbs, and either brown them in the oven or before the fire. Have ready the above quantity of gravy, to which add 1/2 glass of sherry; dish the sweetbreads, pour the gravy under them, and garnish with water-cresses.

Time.—Rather more than 1/2 hour. Average cost, 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. each.

Aug 152013
 

97i/23/huty/6083/03

On this date in 1057, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, “the Red King”), died in battle (the same day he killed Duncan I in battle in 1040 to become king). Macbeth was King of the Scots from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play presents a highly inaccurate picture of his reign and personality. Let me try to set the record straight. Some of what follows is disputed by historians because contemporary (or near contemporary) sources are biased and conflicting.  At the very least it is much closer to the truth than Shakespeare’s play.

Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, mormaer of Moray. His mother, who is not mentioned in contemporary sources, is sometimes supposed to have been Donada, a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). At the age of 7, Macbeth was sent to a Christian monastery to be educated by monks—a requirement for all chieftains’ sons. At age 15, Macbeth’s cousins, Malcolm and Gillecomgain, killed his father, possibly for being too close to Malcolm II, and potentially limiting their own royal aspirations. Macbeth reappears in annals around 1032 when his cousin, Gillecomgain, was killed by order of Malcolm II for his killing of Macbeth’s father. Macbeth was then elected mormaer of Moray, married Gillecomgain’s widow, Gruoch, and adopted her son, Lulach. The marriage strengthened his claim to the throne.

On November 24, 1034, Malcolm II died of natural causes (not very common for Scottish kings!). One month later, his son, Duncan MacCrinan, was elected king. For six uneasy years, Duncan ruled Scotland with a thirst for power that was undermined by his incompetence on the battlefield. In 1038, Ealdred, earl of Northumbria, attacked southern Scotland, but the effort was repelled and Duncan’s chiefs encouraged him to lead a counterattack. Duncan also wanted to invade the Orkneys Islands to the north. Over the objections of all of his advisers, he chose to do both at the same time.

The attack on the Orkneys was led by his nephew, Moddan, while Duncan led a force toward Northumbria. Both armies were soon routed and pursued by Thorfinn, mormaer of Orkney. Macbeth joined Thorfinn and, together, they were victorious, killing Moddan. On August 15, 1040, Macbeth defeated Duncan’s army, killing him in the process. Later that month, Macbeth led his forces to Scone, the Scottish capital, and, at age 35, he was crowned king of Scotland. So, although Macbeth did kill Duncan, as per Shakespeare, it was not an act of treachery.  Neither was Duncan an old man at the time. He was described in the annals as young and vigorous.

Duncan I

Duncan I

For 17 years, life was peaceful and prosperous under Macbeth. He ruled with an even hand and encouraged the spread of Christianity. He enacted several good laws, among them one that enforced the Celtic tradition requiring officers of the court to defend women and orphans anywhere in the kingdom. Another allowed daughters the same rights of inheritance as sons. The only domestic disruption was in 1045, a rebellion by Duncan I’s supporters that was soon suppressed.

In 1050, Macbeth and his wife traveled to Rome for a papal jubilee, giving alms to the poor and donating to the Church. However, upon his return, Macbeth faced political turmoil brewing outside his realm. In 1052, Normans living in England fled the strife between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor into Scotland. Celtic custom held that all travelers were welcome in Macbeth’s court. However, this act of kindness did not sit well with the English nobility. Around the same time, Duncan’s 21-year-old son, Malcolm, was lobbying English lords, claiming that it would be in their interests if he were king of Scotland.

In time, Malcolm’s efforts led to action. In 1054, Siward, earl of Northumbria, accompanied by Malcolm, led an army north into Scotland. Meeting little resistance from the southern provinces, they continued north. On July 27, 1054, Macbeth’s forces met the invaders in Dunsinnan, close to the capital in Scone. By the end of the battle annals report that 3,000 of Macbeth’s forces had fallen (3,000 being a round number in the annals meaning “a lot”).  The invaders only lost 1,500 (that is, “many, but fewer”), and the outcome was indecisive. Macbeth retrenched his army near Scone, and Malcolm moved south to control Cumbria, the southernmost province of Scotland.  Note that this is Shakespeare’s battle at Dunsinane, but without the leafy camouflage and without the death of Macbeth. It was a setback for Macbeth, not a disaster.

Dunsinane

Dunsinane

Over the next three years, Macbeth and his army were under constant assault by Malcolm, but he was able to stave him off. In 1057, Macbeth lost the support of two key allies, Pope Leo IX and the bishop of St. Andrew, Maelduin MacGille-Ordain, both of whom could have put pressure on England not to support Malcolm. Macbeth also lost his chief general, Thorfinn, ruler of the Orkneys, who had recently died.

On August 15, 1057, Macbeth was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire by Malcolm’s men as he tried to return to Moray.

Lumphanan

Lumphanan

Macbeth’s body was buried in the holy isle of Iona, where many other Scottish kings were buried. A few days after his death, his stepson, Lulach, was elected high king. Lulach ruled for seven months before being killed by Malcolm’s agents. Finally, on April 25, 1058, Malcolm MacDuncan became high king of Scotland.

Unlike later writers, no near contemporary source remarks on Macbeth as a tyrant. The Duan Albanach, which survives in a form dating to the reign of Malcolm III, calls him “Mac Bethad the renowned”. The Prophecy of Berchán, a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as “the generous king of Fortriu,” and “the red, tall, golden-haired one/ he will be pleasant to me among them/ Scotland will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one.”

Shakespeare used the 2nd edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) for inspiration, but, even so, much of the plot and character portrayal in Macbeth is his own invention, not to mention the fact that Holinshed is grossly inaccurate. Holinshed mentions creatures of the woods as Macbeth’s otherworldly visitors – youthful nymphs or fairies with a benign nature – but Shakespeare converts them to old, ugly, and malevolent hags.  Holinshed says nothing of Macbeth’s personal nature, so the villainous, gullible, overreaching, tragic hero is also Shakespeare’s invention. The character of Lady Macbeth (one of the great stage roles of all time) is also a complete fabrication. About all we can do now is keep historical reality and Shakespearean storytelling at arm’s length from one another. Probably just as well to do the same for Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III, and all the rest of his plays based on historical figures.

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Scottish cooking gets much the same undeserved bad rap as English cooking does from people who don’t know what they are talking about.  I would defy anyone to taste an Arbroath smokie or Scottish smoked salmon or Lanark blue cheese and not declare them exquisite. You are allowed to be indifferent to haggis, although I love it, but Scotch Broth is superb and is not open for discussion.  I tire of defending a cuisine that needs no defense. Criticism is based solely on ignorance.  Here is a recipe for Scotch Pie, a common pub or lunch snack in Scotland as well as in England.  Traditionally these pies are made with mutton, but lamb works just as well.  They are made with hot water pastry which is very versatile for pies.  It makes a solid (yet flaky) crust that can be baked without a tin (although you can get them), and that allows you to pick up the pie and eat it without it falling apart.  Unlike other hot water pastry pies, such as pork pie, or veal, ham, and egg pie, this one should be eaten hot. They are usually made with the lid sunken slightly so as to hold gravy if eaten on a plate.

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Scotch Pie

Ingredients:

Meat Filling:

1 pound (500g) lean lamb, ground
1 tsp mace or nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup (150ml) gravy (preferably from lamb drippings)

Hot Water Pastry:

1 pound (500g) all purpose flour
6 ounces (175g) lard (NO substitutes)
6 fluid ounces (225ml) approximately water
pinch of salt
milk for glazing

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 275°F/140°C

Combine the meat filling ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside, covered.

Sift the flour and salt into a warm bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour.

Melt the lard in a scant measure of the water in a small pan, and when it is bubbling add the hot liquid to the flour, working quickly to mix thoroughly. Keep the bowl and pastry warm otherwise you will not be able to work it.  I usually put it on the hob over the stove.

You are going to make 8 pies and lids, so you will have to gauge how much pastry you will need for each pie. Take enough dough for one pie and make it into a flattened ball. Grease the base of an inverted glass or glass jar 3-3½ inches (7.5-8.5cm) in diameter, and, working quickly, shape a pie shell over the base and down the sides. If the pastry cracks, pinch the crack together. You can trim the top of the pie shell with a knife to even it up. When the pastry has cooled (which will be quite quick). Remove the glass and place the pie shell, right side up on a greased baking tray. Repeat until you have 8 shells.

Fill the shells with meat and gravy, divided evenly into 8. There should be a space between the top of the filling and the top of the shell.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut lids for the pies using the mouth of the glass.

Wet the edges of the lids, place them over the meat and press down lightly so that the lid rests on the top of the filling. Pinch the edges of the lid with the top of the shell so that it is completely sealed. Poke a small hole through the center of the lid.

Brush the surfaces of the pies with milk and bake for about 45 minutes.

The pies should be eaten straight from the oven, but can also be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

Yield: 8 pies