Jun 272018
 

On this date in 1358, the Republic of Ragusa, centered on Dubrovnik in Dalmatia, became independent from Venice and remained an independent maritime enclave until 1808. I am sure that if you ask the average English speaker where Ragusa is (or was), they will have no idea. If you ask a French, Italian, or Dalmatian speaker you are likely to get a more informed answer because in those (and other) languages, Ragusa is another name for Dubrovnik. Its Latin motto was “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro” (It is not good to sell your liberty for all the gold [in the world]). The Republic of Ragusa was a compact area of southern Dalmatia – its final borders were formed by 1426 – comprising the mainland coast from Neum to the Prevlaka peninsula as well as the Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Lastovo and Mljet, as well as a number of smaller islands such as Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan. In the 15th century the Ragusan republic also acquired the islands of Korčula, Brač and Hvar for about eight years. However, they had to be given up due to the resistance of local minor aristocrats sympathizing with Venice, which was granting them some privileges.

According to the De administrando imperio of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, the city was founded, around the 7th century, by the inhabitants of the Roman city of Epidaurum (modern Cavtat) after its destruction by the Avars and Slavs ca. 615. Some of the survivors moved 25 kilometers (16 miles) north to a small island near the coast where they founded a new settlement which they called Lausa (“rocky island”). Excavations in 2007 revealed a Byzantine basilica from the 8th century and parts of the city walls. The size of the old basilica clearly indicates that this was a sizable settlement at the time. There is also evidence of older settlements (possibly Greek).

After the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa came under the sovereignty of Venice from 1205 to 1358. In this period it adopted Venetian laws and customs. After Venice was forced in 1358, by the Treaty of Zadar, to yield all claims to Dalmatia, Ragusa became an independent republic although it was to be a vassal of Louis I of Hungary. On 27th June 1358, the final agreement was reached at Visegrád between Louis and the Archbishop Ivan Saraka. The city recognized Hungarian sovereignty, but the local nobility continued to rule with little interference from Buda. Ragusa profited from the suzerainty of Louis of Hungary, whose kingdom was not a naval power, and so they had little conflict of interest. The last Venetian conte left, apparently in a hurry.

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje (Dubrovačko primorje). It was purchased from Bosnian king Stephen Ostoja. A brief war with Bosnia in 1403 ended with Bosnian withdrawal. Between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region, south of Astarea (Župa dubrovačka), including the city of Cavtat, was added to the Republic’s possessions. In 1458, Ragusa signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire which made it a tributary of the sultan. When in 1481 the city passed into Ottoman protection, it was to pay an increased tribute of 12,500 ducats. For all other purposes, however, Ragusa was virtually independent and usually allied with Maritime Republic of Ancona. Ragusa could enter into relations with foreign powers and make treaties with them (as long as they did not conflict with Ottoman interests), and its ships sailed under its own flag. Ottoman vassalage also conferred special trade rights that extended within the Ottoman empire. Ragusa handled the Adriatic trade on behalf of the Ottomans, and its merchants received special tax exemptions and trading benefits. It also operated colonies that enjoyed extraterritorial rights in major Ottoman cities.

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea, which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. They paid less in customs duties than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from the Ottoman administration in trade disputes with the Venetians. Ragusa reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, when its maritime mercantile regime rivalled that of Venice and other Italian maritime republics.

Ragusa adopted what are now regarded as modern laws and institutions early in its history: a medical service was introduced in 1301, with the first pharmacy, still operating to this day, being opened in 1317. An almshouse was opened in 1347, and the first quarantine hospital (Lazarete) was established in 1377. Slave trading was abolished in 1418, and an orphanage opened in 1432. A 20 km (12 mi) water supply system, instead of a cistern, was constructed in 1438 by the Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava. He completed the aqueduct with two public fountains. He also built a number of mills along one of its branches.

The city was ruled by the local aristocracy which was of Latin-Dalmatian extraction and formed two city councils. As usual for the time, they maintained a strict system of social classes. The republic abolished the slave trade early in the 15th century and greatly valued liberty. The city successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The languages spoken by the people were the Romance Dalmatian and common Croatian. The latter had started to replace Dalmatian little by little since the 11th century among the common people who inhabited the city. Florentine and Venetian became important languages of culture and trade in Dubrovnik. At the same time, Dubrovnik became a cradle of Croatian literature.

The economic wealth of the Republic was partially the result of the land it developed, but mostly because of seafaring trade. With the help of skilled diplomacy, Dubrovnik merchants traveled lands freely and on the sea the city had a huge fleet of merchant ships that travelled all over the world. From these travels they founded some settlements, from India to the Americas, and brought parts of their culture and flora home with them. One of its keys to success was not conquering, but trading and sailing under a white flag with the Latin word “Libertas” (freedom) prominently featured on it. The flag was adopted when slave trading was abolished in 1418.

Ragusa gradually declined due to a combination of a Mediterranean shipping crisis and the catastrophic earthquake of 1667 which killed over 5,000 citizens and levelled most of the public buildings, and consequently negatively impacted the whole well-being of the Republic. In 1699, the Republic was forced to sell two mainland patches of its territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid being caught in the clash with advancing Venetian forces. Today this strip of land belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and is that country’s only direct access to the Adriatic.

In 1806, the city surrendered to the Napoleonic army, since this was the only way to end a month-long siege by the Russian-Montenegrin fleets. At first, Napoleon demanded only free passage for his troops, promising not to occupy the territory and stressing that the French were friends of Dubrovnik. Later, however, French forces blockaded the harbors, forcing the government to give in and let French troops enter the city. On this day, all flags and coats of arms above the city walls were painted black as a sign of mourning. In 1808, Marshal Auguste de Marmont abolished the republic and integrated its territory first into Napoleon’s kingdom of Italy and later into the Illyrian provinces under French rule. This was to last until 28th January 1814 when the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste leading a body of British and Austrian troops who were besieging the fortress.

I have visited Dubrovnik several times because Croatia is home to a set of traditional dances that are related to morris dancing and other European dances that I have researched and written on for 4 decades. Colleagues have organized academic conferences in the region, and I have also brought dancers to perform alongside locals. One of my favorite dishes when I visit is octopus salad, a dish much loved by locals as a first course. All I really need to do is describe the dish for you to get the idea. It is made from slices or chunks of octopus with vegetables, sometimes potatoes or lettuce, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, and chilled. The trick is knowing how to cook the octopus so that it is tender, because it is all too easy to have it turn out tough and rubbery. Local cooks have all manner of “tricks” which are more superstition than useful. Some will tell you to add a splash of wine to the cooking water and add the wine cork to it when cooking, for example. This is a waste of time.  There are 2 mistakes that novice cooks make all the time: (1) cooking the octopus too quickly (2) cooking the octopus too long. What I did not know for many years is that you do not have to immerse octopus in water to cook it.

Start by peeling an onion and studding it with cloves. Place it in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid and place the octopus beside it. Put the lid on and set the heat under the pot to the lowest possible. The rule of thumb for cooking time is 1 hour plus 30 minutes per kilo. Croatian cooks poke the onion with a fork, and when it is soft in the middle the octopus is ready. However, what counts as “soft” is a matter of experience. The bigger the octopus, the bigger the onion, also. Remove the octopus from the pot and let it cool to the touch. Cut off the head, and then cut the tentacles into chunks (keeping the tips whole). Now it becomes cook’s choice. Toss the octopus with a vegetable or vegetables of your choice. This could be salad greens, or diced, poached potatoes, or even just chopped parsley – or any combination. I have had it all ways. Dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, toss again to coat evenly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve in small portions on chilled plates.

Jun 212018
 

Today is the birthday (1764) of Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS a British naval officer who served in the American and French revolutionary wars, as well as the Swedish Navy,who later rose to the rank of admiral. Chances are that you have never heard of Sidney Smith (as he called himself), but have heard of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson. Yet . . . Napoleon Bonaparte, reminiscing later in his life, said of Sidney Smith: “That man made me miss my destiny.” Why is this?

Sidney Smith was born into a military and naval family with connections to the Pitt family. He was born at Westminster, the second son of Captain John Smith of the Guards and his wife Mary Wilkinson, daughter of wealthy merchant Pinckney Wilkinson. Sidney Smith attended Tonbridge School until 1772. He joined the Royal Navy in 1777 and fought in the American Revolutionary War, where he saw action in 1778 against the American frigate Raleigh. For his bravery under Rodney in the action near Cape St Vincent in January 1780, Sidney Smith was, on 25th September, appointed lieutenant of the 74-gun third-rate Alcide, despite being under the required age of 19.

He distinguished himself under Admiral Thomas Graves at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 and under Admiral George Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes and in consequence was given his first command, the sloop Fury. He was soon promoted to captain a larger frigate, but following the peace of Versailles in 1783, he was put ashore on half pay. During the peace, Smith chose to travel to France and first became involved with intelligence matters while observing the construction of the new naval port at Cherbourg. He also traveled in Spain and Morocco which were also potential enemies. In 1790, he applied for permission to serve in the Royal Swedish Navy in the war between Sweden and Russia. King Gustav III appointed him to command a light squadron and to be his principal naval adviser. Smith led his forces in clearing the Bay of Viborg of the Russian fleet, known as the Battle of Svensksund. The Russians lost 64 ships and over 1,000 men. The Swedes lost 4 ships and had few casualties. For this, Smith was knighted by the king and made a Commander Grand Cross of the Swedish Svärdsorden (Order of the Sword). Smith used this title, with King George III’s permission, but was mocked by fellow British officers as “the Swedish knight.” There were a number of British officers, on half pay like Smith, who had enlisted and fought with the Russian fleet and six had been killed in this action. As a result, Smith earned the enmity of many British naval officers for his Swedish service.

In 1792, Smith’s younger brother, John Spencer Smith, was appointed to the British embassy to the Ottoman court in Constantinople. Smith obtained permission to travel to Turkey. While there, war broke out with Revolutionary France in January 1793. Smith recruited some British seamen and sailed to join the British fleet under Admiral Lord Hood which had occupied the French Navy’s principal Mediterranean port of Toulon at the invitation of the French “Royalist” forces (they were not so much pro-royalty, as against the Reign of Terror). By Smith’s arrival in December 1793, the Revolutionary forces, including a colonel of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte, had surrounded the port and were attacking it. The British and their allies had insufficient soldiers to mount an effective defense and so the port was evacuated. Smith, serving as a volunteer with no command, was given the task of burning as many French ships and stores as possible before the harbor could be captured. Despite his efforts, lack of support from the Spanish forces sent to help him left more than half of the French ships to be captured undamaged. Although Smith had destroyed more French ships than had the most successful fleet action to that date, Nelson and Collingwood, among others, blamed him for this failure to destroy all of the French fleet. Smith and Nelson were, at the same time, both friends and rivals. Both were strong-willed individuals with giant egos who preferred to buck the system rather than follow orders.

On his return to London, Smith was given command of the fifth-rate HMS Diamond and in 1795 joined the Western Frigate Squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren. This squadron consisted of some of the most skillful and daring captains including Sir Edward Pellew. Smith fitted the pattern and on one occasion took his ship almost into the port of Brest to observe the French fleet. In July 1795, Smith, commanding the western frigate squadron in HMS Diamond, occupied the Îles Saint-Marcouf off the coast of Normandy. He sacrificed two of his gun vessels, HMS Badger and HMS Sandfly, to provide materials and manpower for fortifying the islands and setting a temporary naval garrison. Further defenses were constructed by Royal Engineers, and Royal Marines and Royal Artillery detachments were established. The islands served as a forward base for the blockade of Le Havre, a launching point for intercepting coastal shipping, and as a transit point for French émigrés, and were held by the Navy for nearly 7 years.

Smith specialized in inshore operations, and on 19th April 1796, he and his secretary John Wesley Wright were captured while attempting to cut out a French ship in Le Havre. Smith had taken the ship’s boats into the harbor, but the wind died as they attempted to leave the harbor, and the French were able to recapture the ship with Smith and Wright aboard. Instead of being exchanged, as was the custom, Smith and Wright were taken to the Temple prison in Paris where Smith was to be charged with arson for his burning of the fleet at Toulon. As Smith had been on half pay at the time, the French considered that he was not an official combatant. Whilst in the Temple prison he commissioned a drawing of himself and his secretary John Wesley Wright from the French artist Philippe Auguste Hennequin, which is now in the British Museum.

He was held in Paris for two years, despite a number of efforts to exchange him and frequent contacts with both French Royalists and British agents. Notably Captain Jacques Bergeret, captured in April 1796 with the frigate Virginie, was sent from England to Paris to negotiate his own exchange; when the Directoire refused, he returned to London. The French authorities threatened several times to try Smith for arson, but never followed up on the threats. Eventually in 1798 the Royalists, who pretended to be taking him to another prison, helped Smith and Wright to escape. The royalists brought the two to Le Havre, where they boarded an open fishing boat and were picked up on 5th May by HMS Argo on patrol in the English Channel, arriving in London on 8th May 1798. Bergeret was then released, the British government considering the prisoner exchange as completed.

Following Nelson’s overwhelming victory at the Battle of the Nile, Smith was sent to the Mediterranean as captain of HMS Tigre, a captured 80-gun French ship of the line which had been brought into the Royal Navy. It was not a purely naval appointment, although he was ordered to place himself under the command of Lord St Vincent, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean. St Vincent gave him orders as Commodore with permission to take British ships under his command as required in the Levant. He also carried a military and diplomatic mission to Istanbul where his brother was now a Minister Plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. The mission’s task was to strengthen Turkish opposition to Napoleon and to assist the Turks in destroying the French army stranded in Egypt. This dual appointment caused Nelson, who was the senior officer under St Vincent in the Mediterranean, to resent Smith’s apparent superseding of his authority in the Levant. Nelson’s antipathy further adversely affected Smith’s reputation in naval circles.

Napoleon, having defeated the Ottoman forces in Egypt, marched north along the Mediterranean coast with 13,000 troops through Sinai and into what was then the Ottoman province of Syria. Here he took control of much of the southern part of the province, now modern-day Israel and Palestine, and of a single town in today’s Lebanon, Tyre. On the way north, he captured Gaza and Jaffa and massacred captured Turkish soldiers, whom he was unable to take with him or send back to Egypt. Napoleon’s army then marched to Acre.

Smith sailed to Acre and helped the Turkish commander Jezzar Pasha reinforce the defenses and old walls and supplied him with additional cannon deployed by sailors and marines from his ships. He also used his command of the sea to capture the French siege artillery being sent by ship from Egypt and to deny the French army the use of the coastal road from Jaffa by bombarding the troops from the sea. Once the siege began in late March 1799, Smith anchored HMS Tigre and Theseus so their broadsides could assist the defense. Repeated French assaults were driven back, several attempts to mine the walls were prevented. By early May, replacement French siege artillery had arrived overland and a breach was forced in the defenses. However, the assault was again repelled and Turkish reinforcements from Rhodes were able to land. On 9th May after another fierce bombardment, the final French assault was made. This, too, was repelled and Napoleon began making plans for the withdrawal of his army to Egypt. Shortly after this, Napoleon abandoned his army in Egypt and sailed back to France evading the British ships patrolling the Mediterranean.

Smith attempted to negotiate the surrender and repatriation of the remaining French forces under General Kléber and signed the Convention of El-Arish. However, because of the influence of Nelson’s view that the French forces in Egypt should be annihilated rather than allowed to return to France, the treaty was abrogated by Lord Keith who had succeeded St Vincent as commander-in-chief. The British decided instead to land an army under Sir Ralph Abercromby at Abukir Bay. Smith and Tigre were involved in the training and transport of the landing forces and as liaison with the Turks, but his unpopularity resulted in the loss of his diplomatic credentials and his naval position as Commodore in the eastern Mediterranean. The invasion was successful and the French defeated, although Abercromby was wounded and died soon after the battle. Following this Smith then supported the army under Abercromby’s successor John Hely-Hutchinson, which besieged and captured Cairo and finally took the last French stronghold of Alexandria. The French troops were eventually repatriated on similar terms as those previously obtained by Smith in the Convention of El-Arish.

1801, Smith received some honors and a pension of £1,000 for his services, but he was overshadowed again by Nelson who was being acclaimed as the victor of the Battle of Copenhagen. During the brief Peace of Amiens, Smith was elected Member of Parliament for Rochester in Kent in the election held in 1802. There is strong evidence that he had an affair with Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales. Although she became pregnant, she was notorious for having a number of other lovers at the same time, such as George Canning and Thomas Lawrence, so it is doubtful that the child was Smith’s. With the resumption of war with France in 1803, Smith was employed in the southern North Sea off the coast between Ostend and Flushing part of the forces gathered to prevent Napoleon’s threatened invasion.

Like Nelson, Smith was interested in new and unusual methods of warfare. In 1804 and 1805, he worked with the American inventor Robert Fulton on his plans to develop torpedoes and mines to destroy the French invasion fleet gathering off the French and Belgian coasts. However, an attempt to use the new weapons combined with Congreve rockets in an attack on Boulogne was foiled by bad weather and the French gunboats that came out to threaten the attackers. Despite this setback, suggestions were made that the rockets, mines and torpedoes be used against the combined French and Spanish Fleet in Cádiz. This was not necessary as the combined fleet sailed to defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

In November 1805, Smith was promoted to Rear Admiral, he was again sent to the Mediterranean under the command of Collingwood, who had become the commander-in-chief following Nelson’s death. Collingwood sent him to assist King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies to regain his capital of Naples from Napoleon’s brother King Joseph, who had been given the Kingdom of Naples.

Smith planned a campaign using Calabrian irregular troops with a force of 5,000 to march north on Naples. On 4 July 1806, they defeated a larger French force at the Battle of Maida. Once again, Smith’s inability to avoid offending his superiors caused him to be replaced as commander of the land forces despite his success. He was replaced by Sir John Moore, one of Britain’s most able soldiers. Moore abandoned Smith’s plan and resorted to making the island of Sicily a strong British base in the Mediterranean.

Smith was sent to join Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s expedition to Constantinople in February 1807. This was intended to forestall the French from making an alliance with the Turks to allow free passage of their army to Egypt. Despite Smith’s great experience in Turkish waters, his knowledge of the Turkish court, and his personal popularity with the Turks, he was kept in a subordinate role. Even when Duckworth eventually did ask for his advice, he did not heed it. Duckworth, instead of allowing Smith to negotiate with the Turks, which the French ambassador later said would have been the end of the French overtures, retreated back through the Dardanelles under heavy Turkish fire. Although this was a defeat, the withdrawal under fire was played up as a heroic feat. In the summer of 1807, Duckworth and Smith were recalled to England.

In October 1807, Spain and France signed a treaty to divide Portugal between them. In November 1807, Smith was appointed to command an expedition to Lisbon, either to assist the Portuguese in resisting the attack or to destroy the Portuguese fleet and blockade the harbor at Lisbon should that be unsuccessful. Smith arranged for the Portuguese fleet to sail for Brazil, at that time a Portuguese colony. He was involved in planning an attack on the Spanish colonies in South America, in combination with the Portuguese, contrary to his orders, but he was recalled to Britain in 1809 before any of the plans could be carried out. He received much popular acclaim for his actions and was treated as a hero, but the government continued to be suspicious of him, and he was not given any official honors. Smith was promoted to Vice Admiral on 31st July 1810. In the Royal Navy of the time, promotion was automatic and based on seniority, not a specific reward for good service. Upon safe arrival to Brazil escorting the Portuguese Royal Family, Smith was awarded the Grand Cross of the newly restored Order of the Tower and Sword by the prince-regent, John.

In July 1812, Smith again sailed for the Mediterranean aboard his new flagship, the 74-gun Tremendous. He was appointed as second in command to Vice Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. His task was to blockade Toulon and he transferred his flag to the larger Hibernia, a 110-gun first-rate. Blockade duty was tedious, as the French showed no inclination to come out of port and confront the British. Early in 1814, the Allies entered Paris and Napoleon abdicated, and was exiled to the island of Elba.

In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and gathering his veteran troops marched on Paris where he was reinstated as Emperor of the French. Smith traveling back to England had only reached Brussels by June. Hearing the gunfire of a great battle, he rode out of Brussels and went to meet the Duke of Wellington. Smith found him late in the day when he had just won the Battle of Waterloo. Smith started making arrangements for the collecting and treatment of the many wounded soldiers on both sides. He was then asked to take the surrender of the French garrisons at Arras and Amiens and to ensure that the Allied armies could enter Paris without a fight and that it would be safe for King Louis XVIII to return to his capital. For these and other services, he was finally awarded a British knighthood, the KCB, so he was not just “the Swedish Knight” any more.

Smith then took up the anti-slavery cause. The Barbary pirates had operated for centuries out of a number of North African ports. They had enslaved captured sailors and even made raids to kidnap people from European coasts, including England and Ireland. Smith attended the Congress of Vienna to campaign for funds and military action to end the practice of slave taking.

Smith had managed to run up significant debts through his diplomatic expenses, which the British government proved to be very slow in reimbursing. He also lived high lifestyle and his efforts to mobilize opinion against the slave trade had cost a good deal of money. In Britain, at that time debtors were often imprisoned until their debts were paid, so Smith moved his family to France, settling in Paris. Eventually the government did reimburse his expenditures and increased his pension, allowing him to live in some style. Despite frequent attempts to obtain a seagoing position, he was never to hold a command again. He died on 26th May 1840 following a stroke. He is buried with his wife in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

I have known Sidney Smith for many years because Sir Sidney Smith’s March is popular in folk circles. Makes me want to buy a new instrument. It’s a common tune for Northumbrian small pipes, but here it is on button accordion – my instrument.

 

As a small amusement for you, I found this version played on an ensemble of yuèqín (月琴) in China. The rendition is painfully slow and precise, and why Chinese musicians would play this defeats me (although the 2 on the left are foreigners – the leader is Chinese).

This English recipe for raspberry pie (called raspberry tart in the original) comes from the period of the French/Napoleonic wars, taken from William Augustus Henderson’s The Housekeeper’s Instructor (c. 1800). Raspberry pie happens to be a particular favorite of mine, so why not use it to celebrate Sidney Smith? Or choose any other recipe from the period.

ROLL out some thin puff-paste, and lay it in a patty pan; then put in some rasberries, and strew over them some very fine sugar.  Put on the lid, and bake it.- Then cut it open, and put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of two or three eggs well beaten, and a little sugar.  Give it another heat in the oven, and it will be fit for use.

Jun 182017
 

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 1815, arguably one of the key defining moments in European and world history – inasmuch as any single day or battle can be said to be such. Longtime readers know that I don’t like to celebrate battles in and of themselves, but I do take note of a few that stood at turning points in history. I don’t want to talk about the battle itself, you can look those details up. I want to talk about the implications of the decisive victory of the Seventh Alliance (United Kingdom, Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, and Prussia) under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, over Napoleon’s French Empire which put paid to the Napoleonic Wars once and for all, but led to a slew of problems, many of which are still with us 200 years on.

Let’s dispense with a bit of English jingoism first. Wellesley was in charge and the honor of the victory was given to him in England, launching a political career that landed him as Prime Minister – reminiscent of Eisenhower in the U.S. To set the record straight, the army that Wellesley commanded at Waterloo was an ALLIED army that consisted of approximately 73,000 troops, 26,000 of whom were from the UK, approximately 30% of whom were Irish conscripts who were probably more sympathetic to Napoleon than to England. So around 18,200, that is, about 25%, were English, Scots, and Welsh volunteers. They would not have been much use by themselves against Napoleon, but if you study history in England you get the impression that the English won the battle of Waterloo with a little help from the Prussians. The battle of Waterloo was, in actual fact, the culmination of the Waterloo Campaign in which 116,000 Prussian troops were deployed.  The Prussians didn’t just help out a little. Without them the English would have been destroyed.

Popular history is marvelously myopic. Washington got a tiny bit of help from the French and Spanish empires in the American Revolution, and Eisenhower had a few allies to “help” him as he stormed the beaches of Normandy; but to hear tell of these famous engagements in the US you’d believe that the US secured victories all alone. In fact, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Colonial troops were seriously outnumbered, underequipped, and poorly trained until the French joined in (purely to weaken England). The notion that savvy backwoods militias from the colonies won the day due to their cunning and experience as skilled hunters who knew how to attack stealthily and handle a musket, is pure modern-day patriotic nonsense, but it is incredibly widespread (not least because it fuels a rampant desire to keep gun ownership alive via the 2nd Amendment).  But . . . I digress.

The Congress of Vienna had actually begun in September 1814, after Napoleon had been defeated and exiled to Elba, but was interrupted when he escaped and returned to France to take up arms again. The final Treaty of Vienna was actually signed on 9th June 1815, 10 days before Waterloo, but took effect in practical terms (with a few minor revisions), after Waterloo.  I’ve discussed the century-long (and more) ramifications of this treaty in another post: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/congress-vienna/  No need to repeat myself. Europe (and the rest of the world with it) took a marked left turn after Vienna, leading to ethnic conflicts, revolutions, tyrannical governments, the unification of Italy and Germany, and a near-maniacal concern with radical Industrialism within Europe which, coupled with Colonialism, fueled major trade wars, as well as real wars between European powers outside of Europe – notably in Asia and Africa.

Waterloo left an indelible mark on popular consciousness in Britain spawning tales and ballads.  Here is an old favorite ballad of mine, “The Plains of Waterloo,” which I first heard sung by June Tabor around 1970 at Oxford’s Folk Club, Heritage. She was a relatively unknown librarian who liked to sing in the clubs in those days.  Here she is:

She self-parodied this ballad some years later with “The Trains of Waterloo” (Waterloo is a well-known commuter station in London), on the hilarious album Oranges and Lemmings.

Trains of Waterloo
(Les Barker)

As I was a-walking one midsummer’s evening,
All among the brick-red of surburbian sprawl,
I met a young maid making sad lamentation,
And it seemed all Basingstoke heard her sad call,

She walks the street lined with small maisonettes,
The semi-detatched, the town houses too.
Crying day it is over, executives come home again,
But my Nigel’s not returned upon the Trains of Waterloo.

I stepped up to this fair maid and said my fond creature
Oh, May I make so bold as to ask your true love’s name
It’s I have done battle in the Cannon Street rattle
And by some strange fortune I might have known the same

Nigel Clegg’s my true loves name, Merchant Banker of great fame
He’s gone to the wars out on platform two
No-one shall me enjoy but my own darling boy
No Milkman, and the Postman, and the Man from the Pru

If Nigel Clegg’s his name a commuter of great fame
Then we fought together the daily campaign
His brave brolly poking invaders at Woking
He was my loyal comrade on the five-thirty train

We fought with our Guardians we fought with our Filofax
Our rolled umbrellas our telegraphs too
We fought every evening all down the platform
And back through the night on the Trains of Waterloo

Dear lady I bring you the saddest of tidings
The five-thirty train it was cancelled you see
And Nigel not looking he went to step onto it
Straight into the path of the five-thirty-three

Your poor Nigel Clegg I have brought you his leg
And so sadly she gazed at the limb she once knew
And fondly she browsed on one half of his trousers
Oh My Nigel’s not returning on the trains of Waterloo

The suffix /-loo/ got detached from /Water/ and applied to other bloody events – in particular the Peterloo massacre in Manchester http://www.bookofdaystales.com/peterloo/   –  much as /-gate/ has been detached from Watergate in the US and applied to various political scandals.

I’ll give you beef Wellington for today’s recipe, not because it was named in honor of Wellington and Waterloo, but because everyone thinks it is, and they are wrong. It’s my tribute to false history. By the time Wellington became famous, meat baked in pastry was a well-established part of English cuisine. Some claim that the dish’s similarity to the French filet de bœuf en croûte (fillet of beef in pastry) was renamed “beef Wellington” as a “timely patriotic rebranding of a trendy continental dish.” There are, however, zero records of a dish called beef Wellington throughout the 19th century. The name first appears in the early 20th century.

I’m just going to give you some pointers here but I’ll start with a video of Gordon Ramsay giving a fairly standard treatment (with a few twists):

Some of the tips here are fine; some I diverge from. The essence of beef Wellington is layers of flavor so choose the layers to suit your palate (not someone else’s):

  1. Choose the most succulent filet of tenderloin of beef you can find.
  2. Sear it quickly in a very hot, dry pan. I don’t like to use oil at this stage. You are looking for a good sear for flavor, not fat.
  3. Slather with prepared horseradish. I just love the combination of beef and horseradish. English mustard is OK too, but for me, horseradish is king.
  4. A duxelles of mushrooms is pretty standard. Ramsay’s chestnuts are a distraction for me. Make a paste of crimini (or other well-flavored mushrooms) with a little garlic, and fry it off in a dry pan to remove the moisture.
  5. An Italian ham, such as prosciutto, is a common final layer, but pâté (conventionally pâté de foie gras) is more classic. I have moral objections to foie gras so I use a highly seasoned pâté (sometimes of my own making).
  6. You’ll occasionally see recipes with a crêpe as the final layer before the pastry goes on, “to seal in moisture.” In my humble opinion this is a complete waste of time. The crêpe gets soggy, and seals in nothing.
  7. Use cling wrap to encase the beef in the same way Ramsay does but spreading a layer of pâté down first instead of the ham. Using the cling wrap is essential to get the layers all around the beef. Chilling afterwards is also essential to set up the roll for encasing in pastry.
  8. Using cling wrap for the puff pastry is also useful, but I make a regular parcel of the pastry (like wrapping a package), not Ramsey’s toffee roll. Refrigeration overnight is also key to setting up the shape.
  9. I too bake at 200°C/400°F for about 30 minutes, because I like the beef to be rare. If you want it more well done you well have to cover the pastry with foil after it has browned and lower the oven temperature. If you do that don’t expect me to show up for dinner.
Sep 172016
 

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On this date in 1716 Jean Thurel, or Jean Theurel (6 September 1698 – 10 March 1807) enlisted as a fusilier in the French Army (Touraine Regiment) at the age of 18. He remained on active duty for 75 years, refusing all promotions, and died at the age of 108, still registered as a soldier in the army. Technically, therefore, he was a soldier for 90 years. Longtime readers of this blog know that I am averse to writing about war and soldiery, but I’ll make an exception for Thurel because of his extraordinary life. He was born in the reign of Louis XIV and died when Napoleon I was emperor; Thurel lived in three different centuries, experiencing extraordinary changes in France and Europe.

Thurel was born in Orain, Burgundy in 1698. As a soldier Thurel was severely wounded in battle on two occasions. In 1733, during the siege of Kehl, he was shot in the chest with a musket, and at the battle of Minden in 1759, he received seven sword slashes, including six to the head. Three of his brothers were killed in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. One of Thurel’s sons was a corporal and a veteran in the same company. He died at the Battle of the Saintes, a naval battle that was fought off the coast of Dominica, West Indies during the American Revolutionary War, on 12 April 1782. Thurel was a survivor!

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Thurel was a notably well-disciplined infantry soldier of the line infantry and was admonished only once during his entire career. During the 1747 Siege of Bergen as the French troops occupied the citadel he was disciplined because, the doors of the fortress were locked, so he had to scale its walls to get in so that he would not miss muster. Another example of Thurel’s discipline and physical fitness occurred in 1787. When his regiment was ordered to march to the coast to embark on ships of the French Navy he was given the opportunity to travel in a carriage due to his advanced age – he was 88 at the time. Thurel refused the offer and marched the entire distance on foot, saying that he had never before traveled by carriage and had no intention of doing so at that time. His humility is evident in his steadfast refusal to accept any promotions. He remained a common fusilier for his entire military career.

In hopes of improving re-enlistment rates, Louis XV established the Médaillon Des Deux Épées (Medal of the Two Swords) by a royal decree in 1771. This was the first military decoration in France for which an enlisted man could be eligible. This medal was initially awarded to soldiers who had served in the French Army, as a reward for their longevity of service. The decree was extended in 1774 so that sailors of the French Navy were also eligible to receive the medal. A soldier or sailor would have to serve for 24 years to be eligible for the Médaillon Des Deux Épées. Thurel was awarded two Médaillon Des Deux Épées in 1771, the year the medal was established, in recognition of the two 24-year periods of time (1716–1740 and 1740–1764) he had served up until then.

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On 8 November 1787, Thurel was presented to the royal court at the Palace of Versailles. The 33-year-old king of France, Louis XVI, addressed the 88-year-old Army private in a respectful manner as “père” (“father”), and asked whether Thurel would prefer to be awarded the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis (Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis) or a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées medal, in recognition of the period from 1764–1788. This was a highly unusual request—not only because enlisted men and non-commissioned officers were not normally eligible to receive the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, which was reserved for commissioned officers of the Army or the Navy—but also because Thurel still had four more months of military service to complete before being eligible for a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées medal. Thurel opted to receive a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées, on the condition that the king himself attach the medal to his uniform. Louis agreed. The Comte d’Artois offered Thurel his sword, and the ladies of the court put a carriage at his disposal during his stay in the Paris area. The king also granted Thurel an annual pension of 300 livres. Very few men ever completed the 48 years of military service required to receive a second medal. Thurel was the only one to have received it three times. In 1788 the officers of his regiment jointly paid for a portrait of Thurel to be painted by Antoine Vestier (lead image).

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On 26 October 1804, at the age of 106, Thurel became one of the first recipients of the newly established Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor), the highest decoration in France. Napoleon also rewarded him with a pension of 1,200 francs. He was later appointed as the “oldest soldier of Europe.” He remained healthy in body and spirit throughout his remarkably long life. He died in Tours on 10 March 1807, at the age of 108, after a brief illness.

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In researching Thurel’s life I came across a brief discussion about his date of birth. Was he actually born in 1699 and not 1698? Apparently a baptismal record was discovered at some point listing 1699 as his date of birth, but some people believe that this is a forgery. I’d file this under “who cares?”  I’m sometimes given to wonder about the sanity of people who get all bent out of shape by insisting that he was 107, not 108, when he died. Our whole view of French history is hardly going to crumble because of this. Either way he lived a remarkable life.

Inasmuch as one can know anything about people of past centuries I’d have to say that I’d likely have found Thurel a bit hard to stomach in large doses if I’d ever met him. On the one hand, his dedication to service is admirable. I take my hat off to anyone who devotes his entire life, with energy and passion, to a single pursuit. On the other hand, Thurel reminds me of old men and women that I have met over the years who have an unwavering devotion to a fixed concept of duty that won’t bend under any circumstances. It’s not the devotion itself that I have any quarrel with, it’s the underlying inflexibility of mind that often goes with it that can be a tad annoying.

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Given that Thurel was on active duty for 75 years, he would have had one main meal per day throughout the 18th century, as was the custom for rich and poor. That works out to over 27,000 meals. I would imagine that an awful lot of them were the same, and I don’t imagine that Thurel was a gourmet nor used to fine dining. So let’s start with the basics. Standing armies did not develop much in Europe until the 18th century. Before that, militias were raised as needed. With the development of standing armies, budgets and rations had to be codified. They were more or less the same for France and Britain, for navies as well as armies. That is, in theory, each soldier (or sailor) was assigned something like 1 lb salt beef, 1 lb bread, and 1 pint legumes or rice. Whether they actually got this is another matter. Of course, individual circumstances would have varied enormously. Campaigning soldiers could ransack farms and farmhouses for provisions (and did), and when at home were encouraged to raise chickens and livestock, and tend gardens (usually turnips, carrots, and cabbage). What soldiers actually ate routinely would depend on both what was available and the abilities of the camp cooks. My surmise is that Thurel ate a lot of boiled beef and beans with bread. The common habit on campaign was for soldiers to eat in “messes” of 5 to 6 men, that is, the occupants of a single tent. Each mess would build a fire and cook their meals using an issued pot and kettle. The quality of cooking is anyone’s guess. Bread was supplied by local bakers or they ate hard tack.

I’ve covered military (naval) recipes, including salt beef, dried peas, and hard tack, in the past quite fully. You can search for them easily enough.   Whilst I can’t imagine that Thurel ate omelets terribly often, he must have had them once in a while. So I’ll stretch things a bit by giving an 18th century omelet recipe from Les Soupers de la Cour, Menon (1755). I gave his recipe for Omelette à la Gendarme (Military Omelette) here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-paine/ . This name does not imply that the omelet was made for the military, but that it looks like soldiers on guard (sort of). Close enough.

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What intrigues me about this new recipe, omelette au jambon (ham omelet), is that it calls for “coulis” with ham as a sauce for the omelet. A coulis (the term used also in English by chefs) is a form of thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables or fruits. In this case the recipe specifies that the coulis be very sweet:

Mettez dans des oeufs une petite cuillerée coulis avec du jambon cuit haché; battez & faites l’omelette; dressez sur le plat; servez dessus une sauce faites avec coulis bien doux & jambon haché.

Roughly translated: Put a small spoonful of coulis with chopped ham into some eggs. Beat (the eggs), and make an omelet. Put it on a plate. Serve with a sauce of sweet coulis and chopped ham.

Your only issue is going to be how to make the coulis (I’m assuming you know how to cook an omelet). Well, technically that’s not a problem. Blend some fruit to a fine purée.  The question is what fruit to use. First off, I’d say that you need to add some stock to the coulis to give it more character whatever fruit you use. Beef stock would be all right, but ham stock or broth would be better. Still, if you are going to be true to this recipe it needs to be a sweet coulis. That means using a properly sweet, ripe fruit. Pineapple would serve, but would not be very 18th century. Plums would fit the bill better. But it’s your choice.

Jun 142016
 

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Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Marengo fought in 1800, a decisive and momentous battle in what are now known as the Napoleonic Wars. I rarely “celebrate” battles in this blog because I am fundamentally opposed to war, and I am not going to dwell on the actual details of the battle. But Marengo had widespread consequences throughout Europe. Furthermore, the battle spawned the name of a much celebrated dish – Chicken Marengo – although the history of the recipe and its precise form is disputed to this day.

The battle of Marengo was fought between French and Austrian forces near the city of Alessandria, in Piedmont in northern Italy (roughly midway between Milan and Genoa). The French overcame General Michael von Melas’ surprise attack near the end of the day, driving the Austrians out of Italy, and enhancing Napoleon’s political position in Paris as First Consul of France in the wake of his coup d’état the previous November.

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Surprised by the Austrian advance toward Genoa in mid-April 1800, Bonaparte had hastily led his army over the Alps in mid-May and reached Milan on 2 June. After cutting Melas’ line of communications by crossing the river Po and defeating Feldmarschallleutnant  Peter Karl Ott von Bátorkéz at Montebello on 9 June, the French closed in on the Austrian army, which had massed in Alessandria. Deceived by a local double agent, Bonaparte dispatched large forces to the north and south, but the Austrians launched a surprise attack on 14 June against the main French army under General Louis Alexandre Berthier.

Initially, their two assaults across the Fontanone stream near Marengo village were repelled, and General Jean Lannes reinforced the French right. Bonaparte realized the true position and issued orders at 11:00 am to recall the detachment under Général de Division Louis Desaix, while moving his reserve forward. On the Austrian left, Ott’s column had taken Castel Ceriolo, and its advance guard moved south to attack Lannes’ flank. Melas renewed the main assault and the Austrians broke the central French position. By 2:30 pm the French were withdrawing and Austrian dragoons seized the Marengo farm. Bonaparte had by then arrived with the reserve, but Berthier’s troops began to fall back on the main vine belts. Knowing Desaix was approaching, Bonaparte was anxious about a column of Ott’s soldiers marching from the north, so he deployed his Consular Guard infantry to delay it. The French then withdrew steadily eastward toward San Giuliano Vecchio as the Austrians formed a column to follow them in line with Ott’s advance in the northern sector.

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Desaix’s arrival around 5:30 pm stabilized the French position as the 9th Light Infantry Regiment delayed the Austrian advance down the main road and the rest of the army re-formed north of Cascina Grossa. As the pursuing Austrian troops arrived, a mix of musketry and artillery fire concealed the surprise attack of Général de Brigade François Étienne de Kellermann’s cavalry, which threw the Austrian pursuit into disordered flight back into Alessandria, with about 14,000 killed, wounded, or captured. The French casualties were considerably fewer, but included Desaix. The whole French line chased after the Austrians to seal a victory of major political consequences because it secured Bonaparte’s grip on power after the coup. It would be followed by a propaganda campaign, which sought to rewrite the story of the battle three times during Napoleon’s rule. As a small aside, “propaganda” is an English loan word from Italian (ultimately from Latin), with an original meaning of to “propagate” or “spread around” (and not pejorative originally). It was a huge victory for Napoleon, but he sought to make it into a triumph of brilliant strategy – enhancing his status as a general and leader – instead of a series of lucky mistakes and potential blunders that ended up in his favor. Napoleon came close to losing earlier in the day.

Napoleon sought to ensure that his victory would not be forgotten, so, besides the propaganda campaign, he entrusted General Chasseloup with the construction of a pyramid on the site of the battle. On 5 May 1805, a ceremony took place on the field of Marengo. Napoleon, dressed in the uniform he wore on 14 June 1800, together with Empress Joséphine seated on a throne placed under a tent, oversaw a military parade. Then, Chasseloup gave Napoleon the founding stone, on which was inscribed: “Napoleon, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, to the manes of the defenders of the fatherland who perished on the day of Marengo.” This pyramid was actually part of a very ambitious project meant to glorify Bonaparte’s conquests in Italy. The field of Marengo was supposed to become the site of a “city of Victories” whose boulevards, named after Italian battles, would converge to the pyramid. In the event, the project was abandoned in 1815 and the stones recovered by local farmers. The column erected in 1801 was also removed, but restored in 1922.

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There is now a museum dedicated to the battle on the outskirts of Alessandria. Re-enactments are organized there every year on the second Sunday in June to commemorate the event. I was quite surprised when I first taught the history of the French Revolution in Italian schools to discover that Napoleon is considered a hero by many Italians because he drove the Austrians out of northern Italy and, in a sense, paved the way for the unification of Italy, half a century later. Marengo was the name of a greyish-brown color used for fabric produced in the vicinity before the battle, and a coat of that color became Napoleon’s signature color in common battle portrayals. He also named his battle horse and several warships in honor of the victory. The power of propaganda.

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The battle of Marengo also gave its name to the classic dish, Chicken Marengo, whose origins are encapsulated in an entirely fictitious legend. According to the legend, the dish was first made after Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at Marengo when his personal chef Dunand foraged in the town for ingredients (because the supply wagons were too distant) and created the dish from what he could gather. According to this legend, Napoleon enjoyed the dish so much he had it served to him after every battle, and when Durand was later better-supplied and substituted mushrooms for crayfish and added wine to the recipe, Napoleon refused to accept it, believing that a change would bring him bad luck.

Nice story, but with no merit whatsoever – even though, like so much of the folklore of “origins,” it is endlessly retold as fact. Dunand (or Dunan) did not become Napoleon’s chef until several years later, and tomatoes would not have been available at that time of year in that region, never mind crayfish. It’s much more likely that the dish was created by a French restaurant chef to honor the victory.

The recipe for Chicken Marengo varies considerably. The most distinctive, and possibly historically accurate,  consists of chicken sautéed in oil with garlic and tomato, finished with wine, and served on toast garnished with fried eggs and crayfish. Without the toast, egg, and crayfish, the dish resembles chicken à la Provençale, and that is how it is often presented nowadays.

Baron Brisse gives this recipe in 1868 in his classic cookbook:

Chicken à la Marengo.
Cut up a chicken into joints, and cook in olive oil and a little salt, put in the legs before the other pieces, as they take longer to cook. When a good colour and nearly done, add a bouquet of mixed herbs, pepper, mushrooms, and some slices of truffles; place the chicken on a dish, and add the oil drip by drop to some Italian sauce; stir the whole time. When warm, pour over the chicken, and garnish with fried eggs and sippets of fried bread. If preferred, clarified butter may be used instead of oil.

Italian Sauce.
Simmer a lump of butter as big as two eggs in a saucepan, with two tablespoonsful of chopped parsley, one tablespoonful of chopped eschalots, and the same quantity of minced mushrooms, add a bottle of white wine; reduce the sauce, and moisten with a tumblerful of velouté sauce and half a tumblerful of stock; boil over a quick fire, skim off all grease, and as soon as the sauce is thick enough, take off the fire, and keep warm in a bain-marie.

Isabella Beeton gives this recipe in 1861, suggesting that the dish had spread to England by this time but we must remember that she copied most of her recipes from other sources. Nonetheless, some form of the dish appears to have been popular by mid century.

POULET A LA MARENGO.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 large fowl, 4 tablespoonfuls of salad oil, 1 tablespoonful of flour, 1 pint of stock No. 105, or water, about 20 mushroom-buttons, salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoonful of powdered sugar, a very small piece of garlic.

Mode.—Cut the fowl into 8 or 10 pieces; put them with the oil into a stewpan, and brown them over a moderate fire; dredge in the above proportion of flour; when that is browned, pour in the stock or water; let it simmer very slowly for rather more than 1/2 hour, and skim off the fat as it rises to the top; add the mushrooms; season with salt, pepper, garlic, and sugar; take out the fowl, which arrange pyramidically on the dish, with the inferior joints at the bottom. Reduce the sauce by boiling it quickly over the fire, keeping it stirred until sufficiently thick to adhere to the back of a spoon; pour over the fowl, and serve.

Time.—Altogether 50 minutes. Average cost, 3s. 6d.

Sufficient for 3 or 4 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

Mrs Beeton concludes with the much-repeated fable:

A FOWL À LA MARENGO.—The following is the origin of the well-known dish Poulet à la Marengo:—On the evening of the battle the first consul was very hungry after the agitation of the day, and a fowl was ordered with all expedition. The fowl was procured, but there was no butter at hand, and unluckily none could be found in the neighbourhood. There was oil in abundance, however; and the cook having poured a certain quantity into his skillet, put in the fowl, with a clove of garlic and other seasoning, with a little white wine, the best the country afforded; he then garnished it with mushrooms, and served it up hot. This dish proved the second conquest of the day, as the first consul found it most agreeable to his palate, and expressed his satisfaction. Ever since, a fowl à la Marengo is a favourite dish with all lovers of good cheer.

Pellegrino Artusi’s Italian recipe in his legendary Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well (1891) is as follows:

Take a young chicken, remove the neck and legs, and cut into large pieces at the joints. Sauté in 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil, seasoning with salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. When the pieces have browned on both sides, skim the fat and add a level tablespoon of flour and a deciliter (about 7 fluid ounces) of wine. Add broth and cover, cooking over low heat until done. Before removing from the fire, garnish with a pinch of chopped parsley; arrange on a serving dish and squeeze half a lemon over it. The result is an appetizing dish.

What are we to make of all of this? Not much, I’m afraid, except to say that there is no canonical recipe. The idea of chicken with crayfish and wine served with an egg on fried bread appeals to me though, so here’s my version. I make no claim to this being an “authentic” recipe: there’s no such thing. Some people make something similar today using small shrimp instead of crayfish. You can use bone-in chicken pieces, but boneless breasts are easier to eat.

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© Chicken Marengo

Ingredients

4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
flour for dredging
¼ cup brandy
6 oz crayfish, tails, shelled
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp powdered thyme (or one fresh sprig)
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
salt and pepper
4 slices toast
4 eggs

Instructions

Dredge the chicken breasts lightly in flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté the chicken breast until golden on all sides. In the final minutes add the onions and garlic, and cook them until they are translucent but not browned.

Heat the brandy in a small pan, allowing it to flame, and then pour it over the chicken. Add the white wine, stock, thyme, and parsley, and bring to a slow simmer.  Cook until the chicken is tender (about 30 minutes), and add the crayfish tails at the end. The sauce should be somewhat thickened at this point, but can be reduced if need be.

Serve the chicken and sauce over toast and place a fried egg on top.

Serves: 4

 

Aug 142015
 

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Today is the birthday of BOTH Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714) and his son Carle Vernet (1758). Both were well respected French painters. Such coincidences intrigue me. In my own family, my sister’s son was born on my birthday, and my son was born on her daughter’s birthday. Can create a bond.

Claude-Joseph Vernet was born in Avignon. At fourteen years of age he aided his father, Antoine Vernet (1689–1753), a skilled decorative painter, in the most important parts of his work. The panels of sedan chairs, however, could not satisfy his ambition, and Cluade set out for Rome to study there. The sight of the sea at Marseilles and his voyage thence to Civitavecchia (Papal States’ main port on the Tyrrhenian Sea) made a deep impression on him, and immediately after his arrival he entered the studio of a marine painter, Bernardino Fergioni.

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Slowly Vernet attracted notice in the artistic milieu of Rome. With a certain conventionality in design, proper to his day, he allied the results of constant observation of natural effects of atmosphere, which he rendered with unusual skill. Perhaps no painter of landscapes or seascapes has ever made the human figure so completely a part of the scene depicted or so important a factor in his design. In this respect he was heavily influenced by Giovanni Paolo Panini, whom he probably met and worked with in Rome. The overall effect of his style is wholly decorative. “Others may know better,” he said, “how to paint the sky, the earth, the ocean; no one knows better than I how to paint a picture”. His style remained relatively static throughout his life. His works’ attentiveness to atmospheric effects is combined with a sense of harmony that is reminiscent of Claude Lorrain.

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For twenty years Vernet lived in Rome, producing views of seaports, storms, calms, moonlights, becoming especially popular with English aristocrats, many of whom were on the Grand Tour. In 1745 he married an Englishwoman whom he met in the city. In 1753 he was recalled to Paris: there, by royal command, he executed the series of the seaports of France (now in the Louvre and the Musée national de la Marine) by which he is best known. In 1757, he painted a series of four paintings titled “Four Times of the Day” depicting morning, noon, evening and night.

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On his return from Rome he became a member of the academy, but he had previously contributed to the exhibitions of 1746 and following years, and he continued to exhibit, with rare exceptions, down to the date of his death. He died in his lodgings in the Louvre on the 3rd of December 1789.

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Carle Vernet (Antoine Charles Horace Vernet), Claude’s youngest son, was born in Bordeaux in 1758. Carle was a pupil of his father and of Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié. He won the Prix de Rome in 1779 and 1782, a French scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors, that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Winners were given a bursary that let them stay in Rome for three to five years at the expense of the state. But after winning the prize a second time, his father had to recall him back from Rome to France to prevent him from entering a monastery. This is one of many enigmas in Carle’s life because there are so many details missing.

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In 1789 he was provisionally entered into the French Royal Academy, of which his father was a member, and commissioned to produce a painting for his full admission. It seems that his Triumph of Aemilius Paulus was his work for the commission, although the details are obscure. The painting is both traditional and innovative. The classical scene is typical of the age, but the depiction of the horses is not. Carle was an avid horseman and so was intimately familiar with the anatomy of the horse. In consequence this and subsequent depictions is much more natural than those of previous artists. Later, when he worked as a lithographer, his hunting-pieces and races were very popular.

Carle’s sister was executed by guillotine during the Revolution. There are no details available, but we do know that after this event Carle gave up painting.

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He began to produce again under the French Directory (1795–1799), but his style had changed radically. He started painting campaigns and battles in minute detail to glorify Napoleon. His paintings of Napoleon’s Italian campaign won acclaim as did the “Battle of Marengo” for which Napoleon awarded him the Légion d’Honneur.

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When the monarchy was restored he excelled in hunting scenes and depictions of horses.

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Carle said of himself, “I am like the Grand Dauphin; a king’s son, a king’s father, never the king.” Certainly this rings true. His father and his son, Horace, received more acclaim than he, justifiably so in my humble opinion. His technique seems amateurish when compared with his father’s and his choice of subject matter is unappealing (at least to me). I care neither for the “Corsican tyrant” nor the “sport of kings.”

At 78 Carle still loved to ride and race horses. Days before he died he was reportedly seen riding as if he were “a sprightly young man.”

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Claude was born in Avignon and Carle in Bordeaux. The regions are quite different historically and culturally, with different cuisines, so I won’t be able to give one dish that combines both. Instead I’ll give you one dish from each region unified in that their chief ingredient is lamb.

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Daube d’Agneau à l’Avignonnaise

Ingredients

6 lamb shanks
10 z small mushrooms, halved
1 large bulb fennel, quartered and sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Instructions

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet and brown the shanks on all sides one or two at a time. Transfer them when browned with tongs to a lidded Dutch oven.

Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Add them to the lamb shanks.

Lower the heat to medium and add to the skillet, the fennel, leek, and garlic. Sauté until softened adding a little olive oil if necessary. Add to the shanks.

Add the tomatoes, herbs, and wine. Cover tightly and simmer slowly for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone, literally. Cool uncovered, then chill overnight.

In the morning discard the solidified layer of fat on top.

To serve, very gently reheat the lamb and vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with a little extra chopped fresh parsley. Serve one shank per person with boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.

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Gigot D’agneau à Bordeaux

Ingredients

1 whole bone-in leg of lamb
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thin slivers
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more as needed
ground black pepper
2 tbsp rendered goose or duck fat
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¾ cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 cup water
¾ cup light stock

Instructions

Make small slits all over the leg with the point of a sharp knife and insert the slivers of garlic. Slather all over with goose or duck fat. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the leg from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before roasting so that it can come to room temperature.

Heat the oven to 500°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Combine the vinegar and shallots in a small, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until reduced to ⅓ cup. Strain, reserving the shallots and vinegar separately.

Place the lamb on a rack in a large roasting pan and roast until browned all over.

Reduce the temperature to 350°F and add the reduced wine plus water to the roasting pan. Baste every 15 minutes or so. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 135°F to 140°F, about 1 hour. Remove the lamb to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes covered with a tent of foil. This last step is essential.

Add the stock and reserved shallots to the drippings in the roasting pan and bring to a boil across two burners over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Slice the lamb and serve with the shallot sauce.

 

 

Apr 302015
 

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On this date in 1803 France and the U.S. signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles) by the United States from France at a cost of fifty million francs ($11,250,000 USD) plus a cancellation of debts worth eighteen million francs ($3,750,000 USD), for a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15,000,000 USD), which averages to approximately four cents per acre. Adjusting for inflation, the modern financial equivalent spent for the Purchase is approximately $236 million in 2014 U.S. dollars which averages to less than forty-two cents per acre).

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The Louisiana territory included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The territory contained land that forms Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the area of Minnesota that is west of the Mississippi River; a large portion of North Dakota; a large portion of South Dakota; the northeastern section of New Mexico; the northern portion of Texas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River (plus New Orleans); and small portions of land that form the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

France controlled the Louisiana territory from 1699 until it was ceded to Spain in 1762. In the hope of re-establishing an empire in North America, France regained control of the Louisiana territory in 1800 under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. A slave revolt in Haiti and an impending war with Great Britain led French officials to sell the Louisiana territory to the United States, who originally sought to purchase only the city of New Orleans and its adjacent lands.

The Louisiana Purchase occurred during the term of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced domestic opposition as some argued that it was unconstitutional for President Jefferson to acquire the territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain provisions for acquiring territory, but decided to proceed with the acquisition, being advised that the Louisiana Purchase was within the strictest interpretation of the Constitution, which allowed the President to negotiate treaties. The purchase included an agreement to remove France’s presence in the territory and protect U.S. trade access to the port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

Throughout the second half of the 18th century, Louisiana was a pawn on the chessboard of European politics. It was originally claimed by Spain but subsequently settled by the French, who established the colony as part of New France. Following French defeat in the Seven Years’ War, Spain regained control of the territory. As the lands were being gradually settled by United States immigrants, many Americans, including Jefferson, assumed that the territory would be acquired “piece by piece.” The risk of another power taking it from a weakened Spain made a “profound reconsideration” of this policy necessary.

The city of New Orleans controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River; other ports were established, but only New Orleans had direct access from the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans was already important for shipping agricultural goods to and from the parts of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. Pinckney’s Treaty, signed with Spain on October 27, 1795, gave American merchants “right of deposit” in New Orleans, granting them use of the port to store goods for export. Americans used this right to transport products such as flour, tobacco, pork, bacon, lard, feathers, cider, butter, and cheese. The treaty also recognized American rights to navigate the entire Mississippi, which had become vital to the growing trade of the western territories.

In 1798 Spain revoked this treaty, prohibiting American use of New Orleans, and greatly upsetting the Americans. In 1801, Spanish Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo took over from the Marquess of Casa Calvo, and restored the U.S. right to deposit goods. Napoleon Bonaparte had gained Louisiana for French ownership from Spain in 1800 under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. But the treaty was kept secret.

Louisiana remained nominally under Spanish control, until a transfer of power to France on November 30, 1803, just three weeks before the formal transfer to the United States on December 20, 1803. Another ceremony was held in St. Louis a few months later, in part because during winter conditions the news of the New Orleans formalities did not reach Upper Louisiana. The March 9–10, 1804, event is remembered as Three Flags Day.

James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston had traveled to Paris to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans in 1802. Their interest was only in gaining control of New Orleans and its environs; they did not anticipate the much larger acquisition which would follow. The Louisiana Purchase was by far the largest territorial gain in U.S. history. Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, the purchase doubled the size of the United States. Before 1803, Louisiana had been under Spanish control for forty years. Although Spain aided the rebels in the American Revolutionary War, the Spanish didn’t want the Americans to settle in their territory.

While the sale of the territory by Spain back to France in 1800 went largely unnoticed, fear of an eventual French invasion spread nationwide when, in 1801, Napoleon sent a military force to secure New Orleans. Southerners feared that Napoleon would free all the slaves in Louisiana, which could trigger slave uprisings elsewhere. Though Jefferson urged moderation, Federalists sought to use this against Jefferson and called for hostilities against France. Undercutting them, Jefferson took up the banner and threatened an alliance with Britain, although relations were uneasy in that direction. In 1801 Jefferson supported France in its plan to take back Saint-Domingue, then under control of Toussaint Louverture after a slave rebellion. Jefferson sent Livingston as an envoy to Paris in 1801 after discovering the transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France under the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. He was authorized to purchase New Orleans.

In January 1802, France sent General Leclerc to Saint-Domingue to re-establish slavery, which had been abolished in law and in the constitution of the French Republic of 1795—both in France and its colonies—to reduce the rights of free people of color and take back control of the island from Toussaint Louverture, who had maintained St. Domingue as French against invasion by the Spanish and British empires. Before the Revolution, France had derived enormous wealth from St. Domingue at the cost of the lives and freedom of the slaves. Napoleon wanted its revenues and productivity for France restored. Alarmed over the French actions and its intention to re-establish an empire in North America, Jefferson declared neutrality in relation to the Caribbean, refusing credit and other assistance to the French, but allowing war contraband to get through to the rebels to prevent France from regaining a foothold.

In 1803, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a French nobleman, began to help negotiate with France at the request of Jefferson. Du Pont was living in the United States at the time and had close ties to Jefferson as well as the prominent politicians in France. He engaged in back-channel diplomacy with Napoleon on Jefferson’s behalf during a visit to France and originated the idea of the much larger Louisiana Purchase as a way to defuse potential conflict between the United States and Napoleon over North America.

Jefferson disliked the idea of purchasing Louisiana from France, as that could imply that France had a right to be in Louisiana. Jefferson had concerns that a U.S. President did not have the constitutional authority to make such a deal. He also thought that to do so would erode states’ rights by increasing federal executive power. On the other hand, he was aware of the potential threat that France could be in that region and was prepared to go to war to prevent a strong French presence there.

Throughout this time, Jefferson had up-to-date intelligence on Napoleon’s military activities and intentions in North America. Part of his evolving strategy involved giving du Pont some information that was withheld from Livingston. He also gave intentionally conflicting instructions to the two. Desperate to avoid possible war with France, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris in 1802 to negotiate a settlement, with instructions to go to London to negotiate an alliance if the talks in Paris failed. Spain procrastinated until late 1802 in executing the treaty to transfer Louisiana to France, which allowed American hostility to build. Also, Spain’s refusal to cede Florida to France meant that Louisiana would be indefensible. Monroe had been formally expelled from France on his last diplomatic mission, and the choice to send him again conveyed a sense of seriousness.

Napoleon needed peace with Great Britain to implement the Treaty of San Ildefonso and take possession of Louisiana. Otherwise, Louisiana would be an easy prey for Britain or even for the United States. But in early 1803, continuing war between France and Britain seemed unavoidable. On March 11, 1803, Napoleon began preparing to invade Britain.

A slave revolt in Saint-Domingue (present-day Republic of Haiti) had been followed by the first French general emancipation of slaves in 1793-94. This led to years of war against the Spanish and British empires, which sought to conquer St. Domingue and re-enslave the emancipated population. An expeditionary force under Napoleon’s brother-in-law Charles Leclerc in January 1802, supplemented by 20,000 troops over the next 21 months, had tried to reconquer the territory and re-establish slavery. But yellow fever and the fierce resistance of black, mulatto, and white revolutionaries destroyed the French army. This was the culmination of the only successful slave revolt in history, and Napoleon withdrew the surviving French troops in November 1803. In 1804 Haiti became the first independent black-majority state in the New World.

As Napoleon had failed to re-enslave the emancipated population of Haiti, he abandoned his plans to rebuild France’s New World empire. Without sufficient revenues from sugar colonies in the Caribbean, Louisiana had little value to him. Spain had not yet completed the transfer of Louisiana to France, and war between France and Britain was imminent. Out of anger against Spain and the unique opportunity to sell something that was useless and not truly his yet, Napoleon decided to sell the entire territory.

Although the foreign minister Talleyrand opposed the plan, on April 10, 1803, Napoleon told the Treasury Minister François de Barbé-Marbois that he was considering selling the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States. On April 11, 1803, just days before Monroe’s arrival, Barbé-Marbois offered Livingston all of Louisiana for $15 million, equivalent to about $233 million in current dollars. The American representatives were prepared to pay up to $10 million for New Orleans and its environs, but were dumbfounded when the vastly larger territory was offered for $15 million. Jefferson had authorized Livingston only to purchase New Orleans. However, Livingston was certain that the United States would accept the offer.

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The Americans thought that Napoleon might withdraw the offer at any time, preventing the United States from acquiring New Orleans, so they agreed and On Saturday, April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed by Robert Livingston, James Monroe, and Barbé Marbois in Paris. President Jefferson announced the treaty to the American people on July 4. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase agreement Livingston made this famous statement, “We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives…From this day the United States take their place among the powers of the first rank.” The Louisiana Territory was vast, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to Rupert’s Land in the north, and from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Acquiring the territory would double the size of the United States, at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre.

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The United States Senate ratified the treaty with a vote of twenty-four to seven on October 20. On the following day, October 21, 1803, the Senate authorized President Jefferson to take possession of the territory and establish a temporary military government. In legislation enacted on October 31, Congress made temporary provisions for local civil government to continue as it had under French and Spanish rule and authorized the President to use military forces to maintain order. Plans were also set forth for several missions to explore and chart the territory, the most famous being the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The United States claimed Louisiana included the entire western portion of the Mississippi River drainage basin to the crest of the Rocky Mountains and land extending southeast to the Rio Grande and West Florida. Spain insisted that Louisiana comprised no more than the western bank of the Mississippi River and the cities of New Orleans and St. Louis. The dispute was ultimately resolved by the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, with the United States gaining most of what it had claimed in the west.

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Because the western boundary was contested at the time of the Purchase, President Jefferson immediately began to organize three missions to explore and map the new territory. All three started from the Mississippi River. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804) traveled up the Missouri River; the Red River Expedition (1806) explored the Red River basin; the Pike Expedition (1806) also started up the Missouri, but turned south to explore the Arkansas River watershed. The maps and journals of the explorers helped to define the boundaries during the negotiations leading to the Adams–Onís Treaty, which set the western boundary as follows: north up the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to its intersection with the 32nd parallel, due north to the Red River, up the Red River to the 100th meridian, north to the Arkansas River, up the Arkansas River to its headwaters, due north to the 42nd parallel and due west to its previous boundary.

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Louisiana Creole cuisine is a style of cooking originating in Louisiana, United States. It blends French, West African, Amerindian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian influences, as well as general Southern cuisine. The Cajuns (descendants of French immigrants originally from Canada) largely assimilated and adopted Creole cuisine for their own. Although the Creole cuisine is closely identified with New Orleans culture today, much of it evolved in the country plantation estates of southern Louisiana. Despite its aristocratic French roots, Creole cuisine does not include Garde Manger or other extremely lavish styles of the Classical Paris cuisine.

There are two types of Creole cuisine: Urban Creole and Rural Creole. Urban Creole is prepared mainly for New Orleans tourists. Rural Creole cuisine is often hidden in the bayous and swamps of the Old Creole Parishes although you can get it in New Orleans if you know what you are looking for. Since the 1980s, Rural Creole cuisine has largely been mistakenly labeled as Cajun cuisine.

The African influences, which are extensive, came about because many of the plantation cooks were African or Creole of African descent. They brought with them the use of hot peppers and okra, which is called “gombo” in some West African languages. The importance of rice with many creole dishes was also influenced by African cooks as well as the layers of flavors in Creole cooking techniques. The indigenous people of Louisiana introduced powdered sassafras leaves, also known as filé, a thickening agent used in gumbo, along with corn dishes like maque choux. The Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian influences on Creole cuisine were the wide usage of citrus juice marinades. The Portuguese, Spaniards and the Italians also used tomatoes extensively, which had not been a frequent ingredient in the earlier French era. Pasta and tomato sauces arrived during the period when New Orleans was a popular destination for Italian settlers (roughly, 1815 to 1925). Many of them became grocers, bakers, cheese makers and orchard farmers, and so influenced the Creole cuisine in New Orleans and its suburbs.

The first French, Spanish and Portuguese Creole cookbooks date back to the era before the Louisiana Purchase. The first Creole cookbook in English was La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous For Its Cuisine, written by Lafcadio Hearn and published in 1885. By that time Creole was already an identifiable regional cuisine recognized outside Louisiana: for example, an 1882 Florida hotel menu now in the New York Public Library’s collection offered “Chicken Saute, á la Creole.”

Starting in the 1980s, Creole cuisine began to be relabeled Cajun cuisine. An example of this relabeling is by Chef Paul Prudhomme. A national interest in Creole cooking developed, and many tourists went to New Orleans expecting to find “true” Creole food there (being unaware that the city was culturally and geographically separate from the Old Creole Parishes/Acadiana). The “New New Orleans Cooking” of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse includes Creole dishes, both rural and urban. In his writings and TV shows, Lagasse draws the distinction between the misnomer “Cajun” for rural Creole and urban Creole – not bad for a chef from Massachusetts of Portuguese origin.

I visited New Orleans and southern Louisiana quite often for several years some years ago. First stop was always for a dozen (or two) oysters on the half shell, fresh shucked at the bar at a local oyster joint; then on to somewhere for jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, crawfish and crab boil, or what have you. One relatively modern (i.e urban creole) dish I liked for breakfast/brunch was Eggs Sardou. Eggs Sardou is poached eggs, artichoke bottoms, creamed spinach and Hollandaise sauce. It is on the menu of many Creole restaurants in New Orleans, including Antoine’s, where Eggs Sardou was invented. Eggs Sardou is named for Victorien Sardou, a famous French dramatist of the 19th century, who was a guest in New Orleans when the dish was invented. The Eggs Sardou served at Antoine’s Restaurant nowadays include truffles, ham, and anchovies topping the hollandaise. The dish requires both béchamel and hollandaise sauces, recipes for which you can find in the HINTS section here (tab top left).

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Eggs Sardou

Place a layer of chopped poached spinach creamed with béchamel on a warmed plate. Place two heated artichoke hearts (use a slow oven) on the spinach, and place a poached egg in each (runny yolk). Smother with hollandaise and garnish with what you will – truffles, diced ham, crawfish. These eggs must be made to order, piping hot. Antoine’s usually serves the eggs with grits for a full meal. As an appetizer you can omit them. Some buttered toast is all I need.

Jun 092014
 

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On this date in 1815 the delegates at the Congress of Vienna signed the final treaty setting the stage for European political history for 100 years and more. It is, without question, one of the most significant international political summits in European history. The Congress of Vienna reconciled the multiple conflicts of interest between the European powers and created a period of almost 40 years without major European conflicts. Peace came at a price, though. All the egalitarian, democratic, and liberal ideals of the French revolution were cast aside, and Europe stepped back to a political landscape much like that before 1789, setting the stage for revolutionary upheaval in 1848 – the year of revolutions.

On a more mundane note, the Congress was a cultural event without peer before or since. For ten months, Vienna entertained more than 200 delegates from all over Europe with a marathon cultural calendar. It consisted of daily balls and society events to cater to the vanities and emotional well being of its top guests. The Congress of Vienna played a pivotal role in anchoring Vienna’s image as a society of waltz dancing, cake eating bohemians who love life, and who use their culture to outshine their European rivals. In Prince Charles de Ligne’s famous words:

“Le Congrès danse, mais il ne marche pas.” (The Congress dances but it does not move forward)

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After years of raging war, Napoleon Bonaparte had left Europe in tatters. While he was in exile on the Italian island of Elba, the European state system needed re-structuring. The First Treaty of Paris established a congress in Vienna where all participants of the war would decide on a substantial political re-order in post-war Europe. Vienna as the epicenter of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire with its vast territories and regional interests, seemed an obvious choice. In September 1814, about six months after the fall of Napoleon, Habsburg Emperor Francis I invited the European rulers and their key diplomats to the Congress of Vienna.

The Congress of Vienna was essentially concerned with:

  • re-installing the absolutist monarchies in Europe before the French Revolution of 1789, also known as the Restoration
  • legitimizing the ruling monarchies and fiefdoms
  • re-structuring Germany’s internal affairs
  • weakening France’s political power
  • creating rules for mediating and managing conflicts among European rulers in a peaceful way.

It was not about the various peoples and their needs for freedom and prosperity, but of restoring the interests of the old European dynasties.

The five European super powers Russia, Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and France were represented through their heads of state and senior diplomats at the Congress of Vienna. In addition, the other German courts, previously sovereign cities, Switzerland, and other European states sent delegates to Vienna. All in all, approximately 200 rulers and their diplomats flocked to the Austrian capital. The major players were:

Metternich

Metternich

Austrian Empire

Emperor Francis I was the Congress’ official host. Although he detested Napoleon Bonaparte he agreed to the marriage between Napoleon and his own daughter Marie Louise in 1810. His subsequent alliance with Napoleon against Russia ended in defeat. However, the Treaty of Paris of 1814 boosted Francis’ territorial powers. He came to rule the largest territory the Habsburgs and their predecessors had ever possessed. Prince Metternich, called the “coachman of Europe,” presided and played a key role in the difficult negotiations among the Great Powers, especially with France. Metternich said: “The first and foremost objective of our Government’s endeavors, and that of all allied Governments since the restoration of Europe’s independence, is to maintain the existing order, which is the fortunate result of this restoration.” His repressive politics worked for more than 30 years. However, for Metternich, 1848 (the year of the revolution) finally put an end to them. Metternich was also interested in strengthening France’s role in Europe and using it to counterbalance Russia’s power.

Alexander I

Alexander I

Russia

Tsar Alexander I was educated based on Rousseau’s liberal ideas, but was a weak and inconsistent ruler. At the Congress of Vienna, he promoted peaceful collaboration and order, obtained the neutral status of Switzerland and provided his new Polish territory with a liberal constitution. He invented the idea of the Holy Alliance (Russian, Austria, and Prussia), for mutual aid. Karl Robert (Vassilievich), Count Nesselrode, was the leader of the Russian delegation at the Congress. He turned into one of the most fervent promoters and defenders of the Holy Alliance.

Wellington

Wellington

Great Britain

Lord Henry Robert Stewart Castlereagh was, like Metternich, a strong conservative who detested Napoleon’s liberal ideas. Together with Metternich and Prince Talleyrand, he formed an alliance against Russia and Prussia. As a result, Russia won large parts of Poland. Prussia lost significant territories of Saxony. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was a British diplomat in France of British-Irish origin. He took over the negotiations at the Vienna Congress from Lord Castlereagh on 1st February 1815. He later led the coalition army in the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s final defeat, which ended nine days after the official end of the Congress.

Hardenberg

Hardenberg

Prussia

Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg was State Chancellor of Prussia and one of the leading state reformers of the 19th century – liberal minded and a promoter of democratic principles with the monarchy. At the Congress of Vienna, he managed to achieve equal status for Prussia and re-position it among the leading European Powers. Wilhelm von Humboldt was a famous German philosopher and liberal reformer of the German educational system. At the Congress of Vienna, he successfully promoted Jewish civil rights but was defeated in his objectives to create a liberal constitution for the German Bund. King Frederick William III of Prussia was also in Vienna, playing his role behind the scenes.

Talleyrand

Talleyrand

France

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord: was the leader of the French delegation. He almost managed to position the defeated France as an equal negotiation partner at the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and France’s defeat in the battle of Waterloo, however, thwarted his efforts.

On 9 June 1815, the five signatory states signed the Treaty of Vienna. You can see the newly created territories and their boundaries in the historic map below (click to enlarge). The battle of Waterloo was still raging on, ending in Napoleon’s defeat nine days later.

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The vast majority of territories was re-distributed to the Great Powers as before the Napoleonic Wars. The big winner, however, was Russia, which obtained large parts of the Duchy of Warsaw (Poland). Germany was not successful in pushing through its aim to create a united German state. Austria received large territories in Italy, including Dalmatia, Friulia, Istria, Lombardy, and Venice; and re-obtained regions such as Croatia, Upper Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, and Galicia (Poland). On the other hand, it had to resign from its territories in Brisgau and the Austrian Netherlands. Switzerland was structured into 22 cantons and obtained neutral status. Sweden lost Finland and Swedish-Pommern but retained its Norwegian territories.

At the time, the Congress of Vienna was considered a big success by the signatories. It had achieved its main aim, to re-create a balance of power in Europe pre-Napoleon. Friedrich von Gentz, Prince Metternich’s secretary of state, summarized: “The task of this Congress was difficult and complicated. It was about restoring everything that 20 years of disorder had destroyed, re-constructing the political system from the large ruins with which a terrible tremor had covered Europe’s soil. This big task is accomplished. As they part today, the Sovereigns have committed themselves to one single, simple and holy obligation: that of deferring all other considerations in relation to peace keeping, and of nipping in the bud every plan of destroying the existing order, with all available means.”

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Following the battle of Waterloo, France ended up losing key territories and was forced to pay 700 million Francs of indemnity and return the European art treasures stolen by Napoleon. The Ottoman Empire (later known as the “Sick Man of Europe”) was excluded from the Congress and, therefore, continued on a path of stagnation and disintegration through the 19th century. Other key achievements of the Congress included the proscription of slave trade, and free international stream navigation.

There is no doubt that in terms of its stated aims the Congress of Vienna was an enormous success. Its goal was to create stability and prevent Europe-wide war by creating a finely tuned balance of power among the key states, and by creating neutral states, such as the Low Countries and Switzerland, to act as buffers between the major powers. But there was a big price to pay. Ethnic groups in gigantic empires such as Austria and Russia were lumped together under one polity with no chance at autonomy, nationhood, and self governance. Likewise the egalitarian and democratic ideals of the French Revolution were squashed as states returned to monarchic rule. Thus, while continent-wide conflict was eliminated, the impulse towards internal revolution and reform throughout Europe increased in intensity. In consequence, in 1848 all Europe erupted in revolution, following a domino effect, with only Great Britain escaping violent revolt.

The Viennese cooking tradition (not to be confused with Austrian cooking), developed from many different sources. Italian influence has been strong since roughly the early 17th century. In the 18th century, French cuisine became influential in Vienna, along with French etiquette and diplomatic language. The term “Wiener Küche” (Viennese cuisine) first appeared in German language cookbooks around the end of the 18th century. In the second half of the 19th century, cookbooks started to include Bohemian, Hungarian (particularly with Gulaschsuppe, originally a Hungarian stew), Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Southern Slavic features in Viennese cuisine. The croissant is also thought to have originated in Vienna after the defeat of the Turks in the Siege of Vienna (1529).

Classic Viennese dishes, many of which are well known outside Austria, include apfelstrudel, palatschinken (Viennese crêpes), sachertorte, and germknödel (sweet yeast dumpling). The Danish pastry is said to originate from Vienna, and in Denmark is called wienerbrød (Viennese bread), probably because it uses a certain kind of dough consisting of butter and flour in the classic cuisine referred to as “Viennese Dough.” This pastry is called “Kolatsche” (from the Czech kolá? from kolo for wheel) in Viennese.

But the great iconic dish is wiener schnitzel, thin cutlets of veal breaded and fried. Sadly for us, wiener schnitzel did not appear in Vienna until the mid 19th century, long after the Congress, so it cannot be considered symbolic of the times. There is hope though. Wiener schnitzel likely started out life as a variant of backhendl, breaded fried chicken, and this was a favored aristocratic dish at the time of the Congress. Backhendl is like versions of fried chicken found in many parts of the world, with the difference being that all the meat was boned. Nowadays the bones are usually left in. Lard was the common frying medium, and is still the best for truly crispy chicken. Vegetable oil is healthier, though. Your choice.

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Weiner Backhendl

Ingredients:

2 small chickens including livers
2 cups/200 g flour
2 ¾ cups/300 g breadcrumbs
5 eggs, beaten
lard or peanut oil
1 bunch parsley
salt

Instructions

Cut each chicken into 6 pieces, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breasts. Bone the thighs and drumsticks. Skin all pieces.

Line up three bowls containing separately flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Designate one of your hands the dry hand and the other the wet hand. Using your dry hand, roll a chicken piece in flour to coat thoroughly and then place it in the egg (without the dry hand touching the egg). Use your wet hand to coat the chicken with egg and place it in the breadcrumbs. Use your dry hand to evenly and completely coat the chicken with breadcrumbs then place it on a wire rack. Do not press the breadcrumbs into the meat. If you do not keep the duties of your hands separated like this the egg eventually gets into the dry ingredients and they clump. Repeat for all the chicken pieces and the livers.

Put enough oil in a heavy skillet so that it is about ½ in/1.25 cm deep. Heat to 325°F/160 °C.

Fry the chicken in batches that do not overcrowd the skillet for about 20 minutes, turning once, until the coating is golden. Drain on wire racks. Salt to taste.

Briefly fry the parsley (30 sec) and use it to garnish the chicken. Serve with a green salad or potato salad.

Serves 4-6

 

Jun 062014
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civet de Sanglier

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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

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

Serve with pasta and crusty bread.

Serves 8

 

May 212013
 

santa helena

Napoleon-surf-check

Today is a double threat. It is the feast day of St Helena of Constantinople, and, not by coincidence, a public holiday on St Helena Island.

St Helena (the saint) has two main claims to fame.  She was the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I, and she is credited in legend with finding the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 326-28, when Constantine was emperor, Helena undertook a trip to the Holy Places in Palestine. Jerusalem was still being rebuilt following the destruction caused by Emperor Hadrian. He had built a temple over the site of Jesus’ tomb near Calvary, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. Accounts differ concerning whether the Temple was dedicated to Venus or Jupiter. According to tradition, Helena ordered the temple torn down and on excavating the site found three crosses. There was a feeling among the discoverers that these were the three crosses from Calvary but Helena needed proof. So she had a woman who was near death brought from the city. When the woman touched the first and second crosses, her condition did not change, but when she touched the third and final cross she suddenly recovered and Helena declared that cross to be the True Cross. On the site of discovery, Constantine ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces in 327 to return to Rome, bringing with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics, which were then stored in her palace’s private chapel, where they can still be seen today. Her palace was later converted into the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. This has been maintained by Cistercian monks in the monastery which has been attached to the church for centuries. Tradition says that the site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with earth brought from Golgotha by Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of earlier Roman emperors.

The Island of St Helena, located in the south Atlantic 1,200 miles west of the coast of Africa, is one of the most remote islands in the world. Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, and because of the date he named it Santa Helena after Helena of Constantinople.  Henceforth, control of the island went back and forth between the Spanish, Portuguese, British, and Dutch, although the Spanish and Portuguese dropped out of the picture quite early on leaving the British and Dutch to fight it out.  It was an important stop for their ships going to and from the Cape of Good Hope and beyond so they could take on fresh water and supplies.

Although St Helena was under the control of the Dutch East India Company at the time, the British government selected St Helena in 1815 as Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of exile following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.   He was eventually built a permanent home on the island where he died on 5 May 1821. During this period, Saint Helena remained in the East India Company’s possession, but the British government met additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The island was strongly garrisoned with British troops, and naval ships circled the island. In 1834 Britain gained control of the island, and it is now one of the last vestiges of the British Empire.

With the advent of steam ships and the opening of the Suez Canal, St Helena was no longer needed as a port of call for ships heading for the Pacific, and became increasingly isolated.  Nowadays there is one main way to get to the island, which is to fly to Cape Town and then take the RMS St Helena to the island.  It calls about once every 12 days.  Otherwise you need to sail your own boat. Tourism is almost entirely centered on visits to Napoleon’s home and grave promoted by the French government. Because of the difficulty getting to the island, tourism represents a very small part of the economy (3% of GDP).  There are plans in the works to build an airport on the island although no airlines have expressed interest in the route.  The hope is to build sport fishing tourism because of the plentiful fish in surrounding waters.

Fish cakes with distinctive flavorings are a signature dish on St Helena.  The recipe below is adapted from the one used on board RMS St Helena.  Local fish, such as tuna and wahoo, are usual, but any firm white fish will work.  The recipe uses a blend of mixed spices available only on the island.  I give a substitute here which is close.

St Helena Fish Cakes

Ingredients:

1 lb (450 g) fish filets (fresh tuna or wahoo in preference)
1 lb (450 g) potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 strips of bacon, finely chopped (optional)
Hot chiles to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon St Helena mixed spice (see below)

Instructions:

Cook the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain and mash them. Put the mashed potatoes in a large bowl and leave until cool.

Wash the fish, and chop it very fine.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet and sauté the onion , parsley , thyme, chiles and bacon (if used) until the onion just starts to brown.

Take the skillet off the heat and add the mashed potato, fish, mixed spice, and beaten egg.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly and form round patties with your hands, about the size of a tennis ball.  Flatten them into a fat disk somewhat thicker than a hamburger.

Shallow fry the fish cakes slowly to be sure they are cooked through and then raise the heat and continue frying until both sides are brown.

Serve the fish cakes as a main meal with rice and vegetables, or as a snack on a bread roll with ketchup.

Substitute St Helena Mixed Spice

Thoroughly mix together these ingredients and store in an airtight jar.

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano