Sep 032017
 

On this date in 590 Gregory I, commonly called Gregory the Great, became pope of the Catholic church. He is not the Gregory who instituted the calendar reforms that gave us the (current) Gregorian calendar, but he is famous (in some circles) for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert the pagan peoples of Europe (including the English) to Christianity. It is quite legitimate to argue that the papacy, Catholicism, and Europe itself as we conceive them now had their origins in the ideas implemented by Gregory. Gregorian chant is also named after him, although it’s not clear whether he founded it. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

Gregory was the son of a senator and the Prefect of Rome at age 30. He tried the monastic life for a time but soon returned to active public life. Even so, he ended his life as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy he greatly surpassed the administrative and political abilities of the emperors and improved the overall welfare of the people of Rome. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France, and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of their allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory also oversaw the alliance of Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, for example, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope (which could be conceived as a form of damning by faint praise, I suppose). He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.

In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I (410-496). The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical. In Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.

Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.” He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s (Gregory’s monastery), where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English child slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. He famously said on meeting them, “Non Angli, sed angeli (they are not Angles, but angels) . . . well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”

The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

The secular state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be formalized for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, “lists” of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, “books”. Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible.

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve the needy and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their efforts.

Gregory’s general charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, which had only disrespect for Gregory, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards. The Roman office of urban prefect went without candidates and secular government was largely defunct. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential voice in ruling Italy.

The mainstream form of Western plainchant which was standardized in the late 9th century, was attributed to Gregory  and so took the name of Gregorian chant, but the attribution is only loosely warranted. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon’s 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope’s death, and the chant that bears his name is actually the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Gregory is interred in St Peter’s in Rome.

Not much is known about cooking in the 6th century in Italy or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  So I’ll start by talking about the ecclesiastical cycle of feast and fast that dominated Europe through the Middle Ages and beyond. Today is both Sunday and a significant feast day in the Catholic church. That means you are free to eat what you want. On fast days, which used to include Fridays, the eves of feast, and the period of Lent, different regions of the Catholic world and different sects had different rules. Many animal products such as dairy, eggs, fats, and meats were not to be eaten and, in the more restrictive regions, only one meal during the day was allowed. Such restrictions were more relevant to the rich than the poor (who were numerous). For the majority, cereals were the norm and meat was a luxury. Even so, the rich found many ways around the restrictions and managed to eat quite sumptuously on fast days even though technically deprived of eggs and meat on those days. It comes down to whether you subscribe to the letter or the spirit of the law. As (nominal) followers of Jesus, they should have observed the spirit, but you know how people are.

I’ve had times in my life when I have been extremely observant of fast and feast days even though as a Protestant minister I have no obligation to do so. These days I am much less aware of such issues because I routinely eat one meal a day – breakfast – and it consists primarily of soup, rice, vegetables, and fruit (with a small amount of meat). I make a practice of eating eggs on Sundays as a treat. This practice has to do with my age and my circumstances. I live in Myanmar where rice is a staple and other dishes are small accompaniments for flavor, not the main ingredients.  When I lived in the US and was an active pastor I followed Medieval fast and feast rules rigorously, most especially in Lent. I won’t go into the spiritual details here, but I will point out that an Easter Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes, and sumptuous gravy followed by a suet pudding with fresh egg custard was glorious after 40 days of fasting.

There’s the medieval trick that has long left us behind. Satisfying every culinary whim, because you feel like it, just makes you fat and lazy. Working on a cycle of fast and feast has much to commend it, but it’s a personal choice. Furthermore, alternating feasting and fasting is another version of my desire for variety in my culinary life.

Frumenty is a reasonable medieval dish for a feast day.  It’s basically a wheat porridge with various flavorings added. The typical method of preparation was to parboil whole grains of wheat in water, then strain them and boil them in milk. The finished grains were then sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other sweet spices, such as cloves and allspice. Dried fruits, usually raisins, might also be added.

Jul 162017
 

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, the first Franciscan mission in the Californias (province of New Spain), was founded on this date in 1769 by Spanish friar Junípero Serra in an area long inhabited by the Kumeyaay people. The mission, of course, eventually developed into the city of San Diego. The original Spanish settlement at the Kumeyaay’s Nipawai was within the general area occupied during the late Paleoindian period and continuing on into the present day by the Indian group known as the Diegueño to the Spanish, a name denoting that the people  were served by the padres at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. In comparison with other Californian Indians a fair amount is known about the Kumeyaay prior to the establishment of the mission thanks in large part to the records of the Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who documented his observations of life in the coastal villages he encountered along the Southern California coast in October 1542. Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, is credited with the Spanish discovery of San Diego Bay. On the evening of September 28, 1542 the ships San Salvador and Victoria sailed into the harbor, whereupon Cabrillo christened it “San Miguel.” During that expedition a landing party went ashore and briefly interacted with a small group of local people.

About 60 years later another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, made landfall around 10 miles from the present Mission site. Under Vizcaíno’s command the San Diego, Santo Tomás, and frigate Tres Reyes dropped anchor on November 10, 1602, and the port was renamed San Diego de Alcalá. It was another 167 years before the Spanish returned to San Diego. The kingdom of Spain had been moderately interested in adding to its colonies in Mexico, however, it was not until 1741—the time of the Vitus Bering expedition, when the territorial ambitions of tsarist Russia towards North America became known—that King Philip V of Spain felt that Spanish colonies were necessary in Upper California, and so Franciscans (and troops) gradually migrated north, eventually colonizing the West to the Rockies. This ought to be a powerful reminder to “patriotic” denizens of the United States in the modern era, that until the treaty of Gudalupe Hidalgo in 1848 which concluded the Mexican-American War, (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo/ ), the whole western third of the current continental United States was owned by Mexico, and that English-speaking peoples there are the immigrants (of course, from an Indian perspective, so are the Spanish-speaking peoples).

In May 1769, Gaspar de Portolà had established the Fort Presidio of San Diego on a hill near the San Diego River. This was actually the first settlement by Europeans in what is now the state of California. Then in July Mission San Diego de Alcalá was founded by Franciscan friars under Junípero Serra. By 1797, the mission had the largest Indian population in Alta California, with over 1,400 neophytes living in and around the mission proper. Mission San Diego was the southern anchor in California of the historic mission trail El Camino Real.

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and San Diego became part of the Mexican territory of Alta California. In 1822, Mexico began attempting to extend its authority over the coastal territory of Alta California. The fort on Presidio Hill was gradually abandoned, while the town of San Diego grew up on the level land below Presidio Hill. The Mission was secularized by the Mexican government in 1833, and most of the Mission lands were sold to wealthy Californio settlers. The 432 residents of the town petitioned the governor to form a pueblo, and Juan María Osuna was elected the first alcalde, defeating Pío Pico in the vote. However, San Diego had been losing population throughout the 1830s and in 1838 the town lost its pueblo status because its size dropped to an estimated 100 to 150 residents. It was not until after 1848, when Alta California became part of the United States that San Diego started growing again.

Carne asada fries seems like a fitting dish for today. It was invented in the 1990s by Lolita’s Mexican Food in San Diego, inspired by a suggestion from their tortilla distributor. It’s a suitably bastardized Mexican-American dish that is popular in and around the San Diego region. It can be made in a number of ways, but the basics are fries on the bottom topped with chopped carne asada, guacamole, and shredded cheese with other ingredients added as the cook desires.

You don’t need a strict recipe. Use about 1½ pounds of carne asada to 2 pounds of freshly cooked French fries. Chop the meat coarsely and spread over the French fries. Cover with grated cotija cheese (or other good melting cheese), and place under a grill to melt. Garnish with sour cream, guacamole, and whatever else you want – such as chopped tomatoes and pico de gallo.

Jun 292014
 

sf2

On this date in 1776 Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions, was founded by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu, both members of the de Anza Expedition, which had been charged with bringing Spanish settlers to Alta (upper) California, and evangelizing the indigenous Ohlone. The settlement was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, but was also commonly known as “Mission Dolores” because of a nearby creek named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (“Our Lady of Sorrows Creek”).

The original Mission consisted of a log and thatch structure. It was located near what is today the intersection of Camp and Albion Streets (according to most sources), very close to the surviving adobe Mission building, and on the shores of a lake (supposedly long since filled) called Laguna de los Dolores. An historical marker at that location depicts this lake, but whether it ever actually existed is a matter of some dispute. Creek geologists (yes, it is a profession), Janet Sowers and Christopher Richard propose that the legendary lake is the result of misunderstandings of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 writings. According to their 2011 hydrological map, there were no lakes in the area, only creeks.

The present Mission church, near what is now the intersection of Dolores and 16th streets, was dedicated in 1791. At the time of dedication a mural painted by indigenous artists adorned the focal wall of the chapel. The Mission was constructed of adobe and was part of a complex of buildings used for housing, agricultural, and manufacturing enterprises. Though most of the Mission complex, including the quadrangle and convento, has either been altered or demolished outright during the intervening years, the façade of the Mission chapel has remained relatively unchanged since its construction in 1782–1791.

According to Mission historian Brother Guire Cleary, the early 19th century saw the greatest period of activity at San Francisco de Asís:

 At its peak in 1810–1820, the average Indian population at Pueblo Dolores was about 1,100 persons. The California missions were not only houses of worship. They were farming communities, manufacturers of all sorts of products, hotels, ranches, hospitals, schools, and the centers of the largest communities in the state. In 1810 the Mission owned 11,000 sheep, 11,000 cows, and thousands of horses, goats, pigs, and mules. Its ranching and farming operations extended as far south as San Mateo and east to Alameda. Horses were corralled on Potrero Hill, and the milking sheds for the cows were located along Dolores Creek at what is today Mission High School. Twenty looms were kept in operation to process wool into cloth. The circumference of the mission’s holdings were said to have been about 125 miles.

sf1

The Mission chapel, along with “Father Serra’s Church” at Mission San Juan Capistrano, is one of only two surviving buildings where Father Junípero Serra is known to have officiated (although “Dolores” was still under construction at the time of Serra’s visit). In 1817, Mission San Rafael Arcángel was established as an asistencia to act as a hospital for the Mission, though it would later be granted full mission status in 1822. The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) strained relations between the Mexican government and the California missions. Supplies were scant, and the Indians who worked at the missions continued to suffer terrible losses from disease and cultural disruption (more than 5,000 Indians are thought to have been buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Mission). In 1834, the Mexican government enacted secularization laws whereby most church property was sold or granted to private owners. In practical terms, this meant that the missions would hold title only to the churches, the residences of the priests and a small amount of land surrounding the church for use as gardens. In the period that followed, Mission Dolores fell on very hard times. By 1842 there were only 8 residents.

sf5

The California Gold Rush brought renewed activity to the Mission Dolores area. In the 1850s, two plank roads were constructed from what is today downtown San Francisco to the Mission, and the entire area became a popular resort and entertainment district.[14] Some of the Mission properties were sold or leased for use as saloons and gambling halls. Racetracks were constructed, and fights between bulls and bears were staged for crowds. The Mission complex also underwent alterations. Part of the convento was converted to a two-story wooden wing for use as a seminary and priests’ quarters, while another section became the “Mansion House,” a popular tavern and way station for travelers.[15] By 1876, the Mansion House portion of the convento had been razed and replaced with a large Gothic Revival brick church, designed to serve the growing population of immigrants who were now making the Mission area their home.

sf3

During this period, wood clapboard siding was applied to the original adobe chapel walls as both a cosmetic and a protective measure; the veneer was later removed when the Mission was restored. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the adjacent brick church was destroyed. By contrast, the original adobe Mission, though damaged, remained in relatively good condition. However, the ensuing fire touched off by the earthquake reached almost to the Mission’s doorstep. To prevent the spread of flames, the Convent and School of Notre Dame across the street was dynamited by firefighters; nevertheless, nearly all the blocks east of Dolores Street and north of 20th street were consumed by flames. In 1913, construction began on a new church (now known as the Mission Dolores Basilica) adjacent to the Mission, which was completed in 1918. This structure was further remodeled in 1926 with churrigueresque ornamentation inspired by the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. A sensitive restoration of the original adobe Mission was undertaken in 1917 by noted architect Willis Polk. In 1952, San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty, announced that Pope Pius XII had elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. This was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States. Today, the larger, newer church is called “Mission Dolores Basilica” while the original adobe structure retains the name of Mission Dolores.

The San Francisco de Asís cemetery, which adjoins the property on the south side, was originally much larger than its present boundaries, running west almost to Church Street and north into what is today 16th Street. It was reduced in various stages, starting with the extension of 16th Street through the former Mission grounds in 1889, and later by the construction of the Mission Dolores Basilica Center and the Chancery Building of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in the 1950s. Some remains were reburied on-site in a mass grave, while others were relocated to various Bay Area cemeteries. Today, most of the former cemetery grounds are covered by a paved playground behind the Mission Dolores School. The cemetery that currently remains underwent a careful restoration in the mid-1990s. The Mission is still an active church in San Francisco. Many people attend services in the Mission church and even more attend mass in the adjacent basilica. The Mission is open to visitors, and is located on Dolores Street near its intersection with 16th Street. The San Francisco neighborhood closely surrounding the historic Mission is known as Mission Dolores, and the much larger Mission District is named for it as well.

Present day San Francisco is foodie paradise. It is one of the few cities in the USA with a claim to serving real food of local origin (New Orleans is another). My faithful readers will know that I have a healthy disdain for “those who know” in the U.S. mocking British food. Homegrown U.S. “cuisine” is, in general, nothing to write home about. Who wants to regale me with tales about the best hamburger ever? Or superb hot dogs? But I have no trouble admitting that there are regional cuisines of exceptional interest in the U.S. I once took a road trip from Santa Fe to Indiana, sampling the local barbecue everywhere I could. My cue from the highway was a thick galvanized chimney belching smoke, and a load of firewood stacked by the door. Such an amazing adventure – Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois – each with local barbecue traditions. Indiana, not so much.

Rice-a-roni is NOT the San Francisco treat. But there are so many dishes to wax lyrical over. When you are in SF (not “San Fran” or “Frisco”) you are a fool to miss the Ferry Building Marketplace. I left there 2 kilos heavier when I visited. I cannot resist Recchiuti chocolates (you have to sample them one at a time, and the grapefruit and rosemary dark choc is exquisite), Far West Fungi specializing in wild mushrooms hand picked, Acme Bread Company making the best SF sourdough bread ever . . . and so much more.

sf4

For now I will go with the mission burrito, a treat that has spread over much of the U.S. My favorite food writer, Calvin Trillin, said that the mission burrito “has been refined and embellished in much the same way that the pizza has been refined and embellished in Chicago.” You might want to be careful in New York or Naples with remarks like that Calvin. But he is right about the mission burrito. Cook’s choice here. Start with a large flour tortilla, Spanish rice, and refried beans. Then you have a choice of ingredients – stewed or grilled chicken (pollo or pollo asado), grilled beef steak (carne asada), barbecued pork (al pastor) and braised shredded pork (carnitas). Or you can try pork stewed in green chile sauce (chile verde – my absolute fav), beef stewed in red chile sauce (chile colorado), Mexican sausage (chorizo), beef tongue (lengua), stewed and shredded beef (machaca), stewed beef head (cabeza), beef brain (sesos), beef eyeball (ojo), and shrimp (camarones). Or why not try birria (goat meat), camarones diablos (extra-spicy shrimp), carne deshebrada (shredded beef with red chile sauce), carne molida (ground beef), chicharrónes (fried pork rinds, stewed), barbacoa (marinated lamb), pescado (fish, usually fried or grilled tilapia and sometimes salmon), picadillo (ground beef with chopped chiles and tomatoes), mole (chicken stewed in a chile and chocolate sauce), nopales (prickly pear cactus), and tripas (beef tripe). You get your choice of salsa too. I’d go with pico de gallo, heavy on the chiles. OK – now I am hungry.