Jul 032020

On this date in 1608 Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat, at the site of a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Champlain served as its administrator until he died in 1635. The name “Canada” originally referred to this settlement, although the Acadian (i.e. French) settlement at Port-Royal was established three years earlier. Quebec came to be the cradle of North America’s Francophone population (although some Acadians migrated south to Louisiana where “Acadian” morphed into “Cajun”). Supposedly the indigenous people had named the area Kébec, meaning “river narrows”, because the Saint Lawrence River narrows near to the promontory of Quebec and its Cape Diamant. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. While many of the major cities in Latin America date from the 16th century, among cities in Canada and the U.S., few were created earlier than Quebec City.

The population of the settlement remained small for decades. In 1629 it was captured by English privateers, led by David Kirke, during the Anglo-French War. Samuel de Champlain argued that the English seizing of the lands was illegal as the war had already ended, and worked to have the lands returned to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations of their exit from the Anglo-French War, in 1632 the English king, Charles I, agreed to return the lands in exchange for Louis XIII paying his wife’s dowry. These terms were signed into law with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The lands in Quebec and Acadia were returned to the French Company of One Hundred Associates.

In 1665, there were 550 people in 70 houses living in the city. One-quarter of the people were members of religious orders: secular priests, Jesuits, Ursulines nuns and the order running the local hospital, Hotel-Dieu. Quebec was the headquarters of many raids against New England during the four French and Indian Wars. In 1690 the city was attacked by the English, but was successfully defended. In the last of the conflicts, the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War), Quebec was captured by the British in 1759 and held until the end of the war in 1763. In that time many battles and sieges took place: the Battle of Beauport, a French victory (31 July 1759); the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which British troops under general James Wolfe defeated the French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on 13 September 1759 and shortly thereafter took the city after a short siege. A French counter-attack saw a French victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy (28 April 1760) but the subsequent second Siege of Quebec the following month however was the final British victory. France ceded New France, including Quebec City, to Britain in 1763.

At the end of French rule in 1763, forests, villages, fields and pastures surrounded the town of 8,000 inhabitants. The town distinguished itself by its monumental architecture, fortifications, and affluent homes of masonry and shacks in the suburbs of Saint-Jean and Saint-Roch. Despite its urbanity and its status as capital, Quebec City remained a small colonial city with close ties to its rural surroundings. Nearby inhabitants traded their farm surpluses and firewood for imported goods from France at the two city markets.

I have covered some aspects of Quebecois cuisine, including poutine, here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edwards-v-canada/

Here, then, is a wonderful video showing the recipe for a tourtière, a classic French Canadian meat pie, typically made with three meats, pork, veal, and beef, with the addition of potatoes and other vegetables and heavily spiced. The chef speaks Quebec French which adds its own flavor.

Aug 302015


On this date in 1835 Melbourne was first settled by free colonists from Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). It is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. The name “Melbourne” refers to the area of urban agglomeration (as well as a census statistical division) spanning 9,900 km2 (3,800 sq mi), which comprises the broader metropolitan area, as well as being the common name for its city centre. The metropolis is located on the large natural bay of Port Phillip and expands into the hinterlands toward the Dandenong and Macedon mountain ranges, Mornington Peninsula, and Yarra Valley. Melbourne consists of 31 municipalities. It has a population of 4,442,918 as of 2014. It was incorporated as a Crown settlement in 1837. It was named “Melbourne” by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, in honor of the British Prime Minister of the day, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. It was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847, after which it became the capital of the newly founded colony of Victoria in 1851. During the gold rush of the 1850s, it was transformed into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest cities. After the federation of Australia in 1901, it served as the nation’s interim seat of government until 1927. Now Melbourne rates highly in education, entertainment, health care, research and development, tourism and sport, making it the world’s most livable city—for the fifth year in a row in 2015, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was occupied by indigenous peoples for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 years. At the time of European settlement, it was inhabited by under 20,000 hunter-gatherers from three indigenous groups: the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong.The area was an important meeting place for different groups because it had plentiful water and food.


The first European settlement in Victoria was established by Colonel David Collins in October 1803, at Sullivan Bay, near present-day Sorrento, but this settlement was relocated to what is now Hobart, in Tasmania, in February 1804, due to a perceived lack of resources. It would be 30 years before another settlement was attempted.

In May and June 1835, the area which is now central and northern Melbourne was explored by John Batman, a leading member of the Port Phillip Association in Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), who claimed to have negotiated a purchase of 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) with eight Wurundjeri elders. Batman selected a site on the northern bank of the Yarra River, declaring that “this will be the place for a village”. Batman then returned to Launceston in Tasmania. In early August 1835 a different group of settlers, including John Pascoe Fawkner, left Launceston on the ship Enterprize. Fawkner was forced to disembark at Georgetown, Tasmania, because of outstanding debts. The remainder of the party continued and arrived at the mouth of the Yarra River on 15 August 1835. On 30 August 1835 the party disembarked and established a settlement at the site of the current Melbourne Immigration Museum. Batman and his group arrived on 2 September 1835 and the two groups ultimately agreed to share the settlement.


Between 1836 and 1842, Victorian Aboriginal groups were largely dispossessed of their land. By January 1844, there were said to be 675 Aborigines resident in squalid camps in Melbourne. The British Colonial Office appointed five Aboriginal Protectors for the Aborigines of Victoria, in 1839, however their work was nullified by a land policy that favored squatters to take possession of Aboriginal lands. By 1845, fewer than 240 wealthy Europeans held all the pastoral licenses then issued in Victoria and became a powerful political and economic force in Victoria for generations to come.Melbourne was declared a city by letters patent of Queen Victoria, issued on 25 June 1847. On 1 July 1851, the Port Phillip District became the separate Colony of Victoria, with Melbourne as its capital.


The discovery of gold in Victoria in mid 1851 led to the Victorian gold rush, and Melbourne, which served as the major port and provided most services for the region, experienced rapid growth. Within months, the city’s population had increased by nearly three-quarters, from 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. Thereafter, growth was exponential and by 1865, Melbourne had overtaken Sydney as Australia’s most populous city.

An influx of interstate and overseas migrants, particularly Irish, German and Chinese, saw the development of slums including a temporary “tent city” established on the southern banks of the Yarra. Chinese migrants founded the Melbourne Chinatown in 1851, which remains the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. In the aftermath of the Eureka Rebellion, mass public support for the plight of the miners in Melbourne resulted in major political changes to the colony. With the wealth brought on by the gold rush following closely on the heels of the establishment of Victoria as a separate colony and the subsequent need for public buildings, a program of grand civic construction soon began. The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne Gaol, Victoria Barracks, the State Library, University, General Post Office, Customs House, the Melbourne Town Hall, St Patrick’s cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished.


The layout of the inner suburbs on a largely one-mile grid pattern, cut through by wide radial boulevards, and string of gardens surrounding the central city was largely established in the 1850s and 1860s. These areas were rapidly filled from the mid 1850s by the ubiquitous terrace house, as well as detached houses and some grand mansions in large grounds, while some of the major roads developed as shopping streets. Melbourne quickly became a major finance centre, home to several banks, the Royal Mint, and Australia’s first stock exchange in 1861.In 1855 the Melbourne Cricket Club secured possession of its now famous ground, the MCG. Members of the Melbourne Football Club codified Australian rules football in 1859, and Yarra rowing clubs and “regattas” became popular about the same time. In 1861 the Melbourne Cup was first run.

With the gold rush largely over by 1860, Melbourne continued to grow on the back of continuing gold mining, as the major port for exporting the agricultural products of Victoria, especially wool, and a developing manufacturing sector protected by high tariffs. An extensive radial railway network centered on


The decade of the 1880s was one of extraordinary growth, when consumer confidence, easy access to credit, and steep increases in the price of land, led to an enormous amount of construction. This ‘land boom’ was followed by a severe economic crash in the early 1890s which lasted until the end of the century. During the boom, Melbourne had become the richest city in the world, and the largest after London in the British Empire.

The decade began with the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880, held in the large purpose-built Exhibition Building. In 1880 a telephone exchange was established and in the same year the foundations of St Paul’s, were laid; in 1881 electric light was installed in the Eastern Market, and in the following year a generating station capable of supplying 2,000 incandescent lamps was in operation.[40] In 1885 the first line of the Melbourne cable tramway system was built, becoming one of the worlds most extensive systems by 1890.


In 1888, the Exhibition Building hosted a second event even larger than the first, the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, spurring construction of numerous hotels including the 500 room Federal Hotel, The Palace Hotel in Bourke Street (both since demolished), and the doubling in size of the Grand (Windsor).

A brash boosterism that had typified Melbourne during this time ended in the early 1890s with a severe depression of the city’s economy, sending the local finance and property industries into a period of chaos during which 16 small “land banks” and building societies collapsed, and 133 limited companies went into liquidation. The Melbourne financial crisis was a contributing factor in the Australian economic depression of the 1890s and the Australian banking crisis of 1893. The effects of the depression on the city were profound, with virtually no new construction until the late 1890s.


At the time of Australia’s federation on 1 January 1901, Melbourne became the seat of government of the federation. The first federal parliament was convened on 9 May 1901 in the Royal Exhibition Building, subsequently moving to the Victorian Parliament House where it was located until 1927, when it was moved to Canberra. The Governor-General of Australia resided at Government House in Melbourne until 1930 and many major national institutions remained in Melbourne well into the twentieth century.


Now Melbourne is a big sprawling modern city that stands in quite marked contrast to Sydney on the east coast. It doesn’t have the Harbor Bridge or Opera House which are as well known globally as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but personally I prefer Melbourne to Sydney for a visit. Most especially it is a great foodie city, with every imaginable cuisine under the sun available. To celebrate Melbourne I’m going to give you a classic Aussie meat pie and Lamingtons. Meat pies are a staple in Australia. A meat pie was my normal school lunch delivered daily by a local bakery. These were the simplest imaginable – minced beef in gravy wrapped in pastry. They’re individual pies so you can hold them in your hand. The ones I ate were swimming in gravy so you typically ate the top crust first, because if you didn’t when you bit into them, gravy would squirt all over you. Here’s a good video:

Lamingtons are the mainstay of church suppers. All you need is a picture and a general description. You take cubes of sponge cake or pound cake, spread chocolate icing over all the faces, and then roll them in desiccated coconut. To be extra fancy you can slice them in half and put jam or whipped cream in the middle. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


Jul 182013


Today is the birthday of Robert Hooke, arguably the greatest experimental scientist of the 17th century.  Unfortunately no portrait survives, and the image here is merely an attempt by a modern artist to give us some idea, although I have no idea what information the facial features are based on. Hooke’s relative obscurity is due in large part because his contemporaries, notably Sir Isaac Newton, sought to downplay his role in key areas of scientific discovery. Hooke’s interests were vast. He made contributions in fields such as physics and astronomy, chemistry, biology, geology, architecture and naval technology. He collaborated or corresponded with scientists as diverse as Christian Huygens, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton. Among other accomplishments, he invented the universal joint, the iris diaphragm, and an early prototype of the respirator; invented the anchor escapement and the balance spring, which made more accurate clocks possible; served as Chief Surveyor and helped rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666; worked out the correct theory of combustion; devised an equation describing elasticity that is still used today (“Hooke’s Law”); assisted Robert Boyle in studying the physics of gases; invented or improved meteorological instruments such as the barometer, anemometer, and hygrometer; pioneered microscopy and discovered the cell; and established an accurate understanding of the origins of fossils.

Relatively little is known about Robert Hooke’s life. He was born on July 18, 1635, at Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, the son of a clergyman. He was educated at home by his father until he died when Hooke was 13.  His father left him an inheritance of 40 pounds, intended for Hooke to use to buy an apprenticeship as a watchmaker (because he had shown extraordinary skill at an early age with mechanical things).  Although he did travel to London to start an apprenticeship he wound up at Westminster School where he studied the classics and Euclid. Subsequently he entered Oxford as a choir scholar in 1653.

At Oxford he was employed as a “chemical assistant” to Dr Thomas Willis, for whom Hooke developed a great admiration. There he met the natural philosopher Robert Boyle, and gained employment as his assistant from about 1655 to 1662, constructing, operating, and demonstrating Boyle’s “machina Boyleana” or air pump. It is known that Hooke had a particularly keen eye, and was an adept mathematician, neither of which applied to Boyle. It has been suggested that Hooke probably made the observations and may well have developed the mathematics of Boyle’s law (concerning the pressure and volume of gases). Regardless, it is clear that Hooke was a valued assistant to Boyle, and the two retained a mutual high regard. Hooke himself characterized his Oxford days as the foundation of his lifelong passion for science, and the friends he made there were of paramount importance to him throughout his career, particularly Christopher Wren.

It is impossible to examine all of the areas of inquiry in which Hooke excelled and made major contributions.  The lead paragraph here will have to suffice. Instead I will focus on two subjects simply because they are of professional interest to me: microscopy and paleontology.

Hooke’s reputation in the history of biology largely rests on his book Micrographia, published in 1665. Hooke devised the compound microscope and illumination system and with it he observed organisms as diverse as insects, sponges, bryozoans, foraminifera, and bird feathers. Micrographia was an accurate and detailed record of his observations, illustrated with magnificent drawings, such as the flea (pictured), which Hooke described as “adorn’d with a curiously polish’d suite of sable Armour, neatly jointed. . .” It was a best-seller of its day.



Perhaps his most famous microscopical observation was his study of thin slices of cork, (pictured). In “Observation XVIII” of the Micrographia, he wrote:

I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular. . . . these pores, or cells, . . . were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this. . .

Hooke had discovered plant cells — more precisely, what Hooke saw were the cell walls in cork tissue. In fact, it was Hooke who coined the term “cells”: the boxlike cells of cork reminded him of the cells of a monastery.

Hooke was also a keen observer of fossils and geology. While some fossils closely resemble living animals or plants, others do not — because of their mode of preservation, because they are extinct, or because they represent living taxa which are undiscovered or poorly known. In the seventeenth century, a number of hypotheses had been proposed for the origin of fossils. One widely accepted theory, going back to Aristotle, stated that fossils were formed and grew within the Earth. A shaping force, or “extraordinary Plastick virtue,” could thus create stones that looked like living beings but were not.

Hooke examined fossils with a microscope — the first person to do so — and noted close similarities between the structures of petrified wood and fossil shells on the one hand, and living wood and living mollusc shells on the other. In Micrographia he compared a piece of petrified wood with a piece of rotten oak wood, and concluded that,

“this petrify’d Wood having lain in some place where it was well soak’d with petrifying water (that is, such water as is well impregnated with stony and earthy particles) did by degrees separate abundance of stony particles from the permeating water, which stony particles, being by means of the fluid vehicle convey’d, not onely into the Microscopical pores. . . but also into the pores or Interstitia. . . of that part of the Wood, which through the Microscope, appears most solid.”

He is spot on: dead wood can be turned to stone over time by the action of water rich in dissolved minerals, depositing those minerals throughout the wood. Hooke also concluded in Micrographia that the shell-like fossils that he examined really were,

“the Shells of certain Shel-fishes, which, either by some Deluge, Inundation, earthquake, or some such other means, came to be thrown to that place, and there to be fill’d with some kind of Mud or Clay, or petrifying Water, or some other substance. . . ”

Hooke had grasped the cardinal principle of paleontology — that fossils are not “sports of Nature,” but remains of once-living organisms that can be used to help us understand the history of life. Hooke realized, two and a half centuries before Darwin, that the fossil record documents changes among the organisms on the planet, and that species have both appeared and gone extinct throughout the history of life on Earth.

Hooke gained a reputation (undeserved) of being anti-social, mostly gained from the fact that he spent so much time defending his scientific prowess against contemporaries, and thereby appearing to be an irascible misanthrope.  He was anything but. There is ample documentation of him enjoying evenings in the tavern or dining with Boyle.  One great tavern food is the meat pie, still very much in evidence in pubs at lunch time when I was at Oxford. Here’s a pie recipe taken from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, first printed in 1669. This is a 17th-century English cookbook and a resource of the types of food that were eaten by persons of means in the 17th century in England. It is supposedly based upon the writings of Sir Kenelm Digby, a privateer whose interests included cooking, medicine, swordplay, astrology, alchemy, literature, and natural philosophy.

First, here is the original:

My Lady Of Portland’s Minced Pyes

Take four pounds of Beef, Veal or Neats-Tongues, and eight pounds of Suet; and mince both the meat and Suet very small, befor you put them together. Then mingle them well together and mince it very small, and put to it six pounds of Currants washed and picked very clean. Then take the Peel of two Limons, and half a score of Pippins, and mince them very small. Then take above an Ounce of Nutmegs, and a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, some Cloves and Cinnamon, and put them together, and sweeten them with Rose-water and Sugar. And when you are ready to put them into your Paste, take Citron and Orangiadoe, and slice them very thin, and lay them upon the meat. If you please, put dates upon the top of them. And put amongst the meat an Ounce of Caraway seeds. Be sure you have very fine Paste.

My Lady of Portland told me since, that she finds Neats-tongues to be the best flesh for Pies. Parboil them first. For the proportion of the Ingredients she likes best to take equal parts of flesh, of suet, of currants and of Raisins of the Sun. The other things in proportion as is said above. You may either put the Raisins in whole, or stone the greatest part, and Mince them with the Meat. Keep some whole ones, to lay a bed of them at the top of the Pye, when all is in. You will do well to stick the Candid Orange-peel, and green Citron-peel into the meat. You may put a little Sack or Greek Muscadine into each Pye. A little Amber-sugar doth well here. A pound of flesh, and proportionably of all things else, is enough for once in a large family.

I have a hard job getting my mind around a recipe that begins with 12 lbs of meat and fat, but thankfully Sir Kenelme helps us out by saying that 1 lb of meat (plus 1 lb of fat) will serve an average family, so we can begin reconstruction on that basis.  You might also balk at a pie made with tongue.  If so I believe that veal breast would make an acceptable substitute. The reason I chose this recipe is that it is akin to meat pie recipes that were popular well into the late 19th century.  This kind of meat pie heavy with fruit and spices is, of course, the original version of the mincemeat pie. The “meat” in “mincemeat” really was meat until 100 years ago.  There is not as much sugar in this recipe as there would be in a sweeter dessert pie, though. The thing that makes this pie a little unusual is the top layer of candied citron, candied orange, and dates. It is always best if you can make the candied peel yourself, especially in this case where you need whole slices (if possible). I have not actually made this specific recipe but I have experimented a great deal with similar ones.  So here’s my interpretation.

My Lady Of Portland’s Minced Pyes


½ lb beef tongue of veal breast
½ lb ground suet
¼ lb currant
¼ lb golden raisins
1 cooking apple cored, and diced fine
1 lemon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp powdered mace
½ tsp powdered cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp caraway seeds
2 tbsps brown sugar
1 tbsp rosewater
zest of 1 lemon grated
candied citron and orange
dates, pitted and halved lengthwise
1 egg, beaten


Preheat oven to 425°F

In a large mixing bowl thoroughly mix the meat, suet, currants, raisins, apples, sugar, spices, lemon zest, rosewater, and a pinch of salt. Grease a 9” pie dish and line with pastry.

Place the meat filling into the dish. Top with a single layer of candied fruits. Then top with pitted dates .

Cover with the second circle of pastry and flute the edges. Cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush the pastry with egg.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Can be served hot or cold.

Serves 4-6

As a small after note in tribute to Hooke’s work with the microscope here’s an image of the sugar in this recipe under an electron microscope.