Jun 062018
 

Today is the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. I have not posted about them before because this event has been covered in no end of ways in documentaries, histories, fictional films, websites – you name it. Until this point it has not been a priority for me, not least because I prefer not to highlight battles as the first order of business. But this was a significant turning point in the war, and, given that it happened 74 years ago, is fading fast from memory. There are not many people alive today who participated in the Normandy invasion, and precious few who even remember it. The passage of time alters perceptions and analysis – the bane of serious historical investigation. The good part is that a great deal of classified information about the invasion – code named Operation Overlord – remained classified long after the war, but is now public information. This part is important for this post because I have always been interested in how the allies used misinformation and disinformation to fool the Axis powers into mistaking the actual landing site. Before dealing with the various deceptions directly, here’s some odd bits of information about D-Day:

In the summer of 1943 an early copy of the plans blew out of a window in Norfolk House, London. A man who was passing by handed them in, saying his sight was too bad to read them.

The “D” in D-Day actually only stood for Day and was simply used to preserve secrecy.

In May 1944 crucial codewords for D-Day began appearing in Daily Telegraph crosswords. An MI5 investigation failed to find any evidence of foul play.

Terence Otway, whose unit was charged with taking the vital Merville battery, decided to test security among his men. He sent 30 members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force to local pubs to see if any of his troops would divulge the top secret plan – none did.

Condoms were issued to soldiers – most were used for covering the end of their rifles to keep them dry

Coded messages were sent to alert the French Resistance to begin a program of sabotage. Phrases used included “the dice is on the carpet” – an order to destroy trains and railway lines.

Many paratroopers that day were dropped in the wrong place including US Private John Steele. His parachute famously became snagged on the church steeple at Sainte Mère Eglise. He was trapped for two hours before being taken prisoner.

The flat-bottomed landing craft used on D-Day were originally designed to rescue flood victims on the Mississippi river in the US.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was in charge of defending northern France from the expected Allied invasion. On June 6th he was at home in Germany celebrating his wife’s 50th birthday having been told the sea was too rough for a landing.

Adolf Hitler was asleep when word of the invasion arrived. No one dared wake him and it’s said vital time was lost in sending reinforcements.

James Doohan, who went on to be Scotty in Star Trek, first saw combat as a lieutenant in the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landing at Juno Beach on D-Day. He shot two snipers and led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren Gun by a nervous Canadian sentry: four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. The bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case given to him by his brother. His right middle finger had to be amputated, something he would conceal on-screen during most of his career as an actor. You can see that the finger is missing in the photo above.

In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted Operation Bodyguard, the overall strategy designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. Under Operation Bodyguard were numerous initiatives including Operation Fortitude, broken into Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio-traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway, and Fortitude South, a major deception designed to fool the Germans into believing that the landings would take place at Pas de Calais in July. A fictitious First U.S. Army Group was invented, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex under the command of lieutenant general George S. Patton. The Allies constructed dummy tanks, trucks, and landing craft, and positioned them near the coast. Several military units, including II Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Division, moved into the area to bolster the illusion that a large force was gathering there. As well as the broadcast of fake radio-traffic, genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give the Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there. Patton remained stationed in England until 6th July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais. Military and civilian personnel alike were aware of the need for secrecy, and the invasion troops were as much as possible kept isolated, especially in the period immediately before the invasion. One U.S. general was sent back to the United States in disgrace after revealing the invasion date at a party.

Juan Pujol García

The Germans thought they had an extensive network of spies operating in the UK, but in fact all their agents had been captured, and some had become double agents working for the Allies as part of the Double-Cross System. The double agent Juan Pujol García, a Spanish opponent of the Nazis known by the code name “Garbo”, developed over the two years leading up to D-Day a fake network of informants that the Germans believed were collecting intelligence on their behalf. In the months preceding D-Day, Pujol sent hundreds of messages to his superiors in Madrid, messages specially prepared by the British intelligence service to convince the Germans that the attack would come in July at Calais.

Allowing one of the double agents to claim to have stolen documents describing the invasion plans might have aroused suspicion. Instead, agents were allowed to report minutiae, such as insignia on soldiers’ uniforms and unit markings on vehicles. The observations in the south-central areas largely gave accurate information about the units located there. Reports from south-west England indicated few troop sightings, when in reality many units were housed there. Any military planner would know that to mount an invasion of Europe from England, Allied units had to be staged around the country, with those that would land first placed nearest to the invasion point. German intelligence used the agent reports to construct an order of battle for the Allied forces, that placed the center of gravity of the invasion force opposite Pas de Calais, the point on the French coast closest to England and therefore a likely invasion site. The deception was so effective that the Germans kept 15 divisions in reserve near Calais even after the invasion had begun, lest it prove to be a diversion from the main invasion at Calais. Early battle reports of insignia on Allied units only confirmed the information the double agents had sent, increasing the Germans’ trust in their network. Agent Garbo was informed in radio messages from Germany after the invasion that he had been awarded the Iron Cross.

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed by the RAF in preparation for the landings. On the night before the invasion, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of “window”, metal foil that caused a radar return mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small vessels towing barrage balloons. No. 218 Squadron RAF also dropped “window” near Boulogne-sur-Mer in Operation Glimmer. On the same night, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe an additional airborne assault had occurred.

While D-Day was an important element in turning the tide against the Axis powers it was not the only element by any means. The war on the Russian front was monumentally important, and the invasion of the Allies through Italy played a major role as well. In fact, my favorite D-Day song is actually not about D-Day at all, but about the Italy campaign. A rumor spread during the war that the term “D-Day Dodger” was used by Viscountess Astor, a Member of the British Parliament, after a disillusioned serviceman in Italy signed a letter to her as being from a “D-Day Dodger.” However, there is no record that she actually said this, in or out of Parliament, and she herself denied ever saying it.

A recipe from Normandy is obviously appropriate for today. I’ve given a few already, including  tripes à la mode de Caen — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/battle-of-hastings/ — one of my all time favorites. Here’s one that is less well known outside of Normandy, but is a local favorite: tergoule. Teurgoule is a rice pudding that is popular at festivals and is an important family dish. It consists of rice cooked in milk, sweetened with sugar, and is flavored with cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg. It is baked in an earthenware terrine for several hours. Long cooking creates a characteristic thick, brown caramelized crust.

Teurgoule has a brotherhood, Confrérie des gastronomes de Teurgoule et de Fallue de Normandie, which is based in Houlgate and presides over the annual Teurgoule cooking competition. The presiding members wear the brotherhood’s ceremonial robe which is green and orange with a cape. The brotherhood keeps the official recipe. This is close to the official recipe (translated, of course). You know you won’t be able to replicate the dish in your own home, but you can make a decent effort.

Tergoule

Ingredients

2 liters of full fat milk
150 gm rice
180 gm white caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Instructions

Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 liter capacity.

Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.

Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays at the bottom of the dish.

Put the dish in a preheated oven at 150°C for one hour and then lower the heat to 110°C for four hours.

The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.

 

 

Apr 262016
 

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In the early afternoon on this date in 1803 a meteorite shower of more than 3000 fragments fell upon the town of L’Aigle in Normandy. Upon hearing of this event the French Academy of Sciences sent the young scientist Jean-Baptiste Biot to investigate. After painstaking work in the field he reported two kinds of evidence pointing to an extraterrestrial origin for the stones:

Physical evidence: the sudden appearance of many identical stones similar to other stones fallen from the sky in other places

Human evidence: a large number of witnesses who said they saw a “rain of stones thrown by a meteor.”

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Biot drew a detailed map of the dispersal of the meteorites, and his subsequent impassioned paper describing how these stones must undoubtedly be of extraterrestrial origin effectively gave birth to the science of meteoritics. The L’Aigle event was a real milestone in the understanding of meteorites and their origins because at that time the mere existence of meteorites was hotly debated. The existence of stones falling from the sky had long been recognized, but their origin was controversial, with most commentators agreeing with Aristotle that they were terrestrial in origin. Eye-witness accounts were treated with great skepticism. They were generally dismissed as lies or delusions.

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The meteorites that fell on L’Aigle were collected and sold or sent to numerous museums in Europe where they may still be seen.

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Most meteorite falls, such as at L’Aigle, are recovered on the basis of eyewitness accounts of the fireball or the impact of the objects on the ground, or both. Therefore, despite the fact that meteorites fall with virtually equal probability everywhere on Earth, verified meteorite falls tend to be concentrated in areas with high human population densities such as Europe, Japan, and northern India. As of April 2016, the Meteoritical Bulletin Database has listed 1,145 confirmed falls.

Meteorite falls may have occasionally led to cult worship historically. The cult in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, possibly originated with the observation of a meteorite that was taken by contemporaries to have fallen to the earth from the home of the gods. There are reports that a sacred stone was enshrined at the temple that may have been a meteorite.

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In the 1970s, a stone meteorite was uncovered during an archaeological dig at Danebury Iron Age hillfort, Danebury England. It was found deposited part way down in an Iron Age pit (c. 1200 BCE). Since it must have been deliberately placed there, this could indicate one of the first known human finds of a meteorite in Europe.

Some Native Americans treated meteorites as ceremonial objects. In 1915, a 135-pound iron meteorite was found in a Sinagua (c. 1100–1200 AD) burial cyst near Camp Verde, Arizona, respectfully wrapped in a feather cloth. A small meteorite was found in a pottery jar in an old burial found at Pojoaque Pueblo, New Mexico. Archeologists report several other such instances, in the Southwest US and elsewhere, such as the discovery of Native American beads of meteoric iron found in Hopewell burial mounds, and the discovery of the Winona meteorite in a Native American stone-walled crypt. The oldest known iron artifacts are nine small beads hammered from meteoritic iron. They were found in northern Egypt and have been securely dated to 3200 BCE.

Indigenous peoples often prized iron-nickel meteorites as an easy, if limited, source of iron metal. For example, the Inuit used chips of the Cape York meteorite to form cutting edges for tools and spear tips.

Publishing is analogous to meteorite strikes. I know editors have seen my articles that they printed, but I have absolutely no idea how many have read them or what impact, if any, they have made. Ditto for my books. I know how many have sold, but no idea how many were read. This fact would be depressing if I cared. I am not trying to make money from my writing, or become famous.  I write because it pleases me.  If it pleases others, I am glad; if not, not.

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L’Aigle is in Orne, a landlocked department in Normandy that is also the site of Camembert, the village that gives its name to the famous cheese. Coincidentally, camembert was first made around the time of the L’Aigle meteorite fall. Camembert was reputedly first made in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer from Normandy, following advice from a priest who came from Brie.

However, the origin of the cheese known today as camembert is more likely to rest with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheesemaking process at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, an engineer, M. Ridel, devised the wooden box which was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to North America, where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today.

Before fungi were scientifically understood, the color of camembert rind was a matter of chance, most commonly blue-grey, with brown spots. From the early 20th century onwards, the rind has been more commonly pure white, but it was not until the mid-1970s that pure white became standard.

My discovery of camembert occurred in 1966 when I was an exchange student in France. Before that time my culinary tastes were extremely limited. Cheese, as far as I was concerned, was generic Cheddar. But when I lived in France it was my duty, along with Jean-Loup my exchange mate, to get the baguettes for the evening meal on our way home from school. We frequently bought some camembert as well, sliced it, and stuffed it into a baguette is a quick snack on the way home. That, and Jean-Loup’s mother’s cooking, changed my outlook on food for life.

So, why not do the same in tribute to the L’Aigle meteorite fall?  I just did.

Oct 142013
 

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The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066 between the Norman-French army of Duke William II of Normandy and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II, during the Norman conquest of England. It took place approximately 7 miles (11 kilometres) north-west of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex, and was a decisive Norman victory.

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The background to the battle was the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, which set up a succession struggle between several claimants to his throne. Harold was crowned king shortly after Edward’s death, but faced invasions by William, his own brother Tostig, and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harold III of Norway). Hardrada and Tostig defeated a hastily gathered army of Englishmen at the Battle of Fulford on 20 September 1066, and were in turn defeated by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later. The deaths of Tostig and Hardrada at Stamford left William as Harold’s only serious opponent. While Harold and his forces were recovering from Stamford, William landed his invasion forces in the south of England at Pevensey on 28 September 1066 and established a beachhead for his conquest of the kingdom. Harold was forced to march south swiftly, gathering forces as he went.

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The exact numbers present at the battle are unknown; estimates are around 10,000 for William and about 7000 for Harold. The composition of the forces is clearer; the English army was composed almost entirely of infantry and had few archers, whereas about half of the invading force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers. Harold appears to have tried to surprise William, but scouts found his army and reported its arrival to William, who marched from Hastings to the battlefield to confront Harold. The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk. Early efforts of the invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect, therefore the Normans adopted the tactic of pretending to flee in panic and then turning on their pursuers. Harold’s death, probably near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army.

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After further marching and some skirmishes, William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066.

Although there continued to be rebellions and resistance to William’s rule, Hastings effectively marked the culmination of William’s conquest of England. Casualty figures are hard to come by, but some historians estimate that 2000 invaders died along with about twice that number of Englishmen. William founded a monastery at the site of the battle, the high altar of the abbey church supposedly placed at the spot where Harold died.

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One of the ultimate effects of the Norman conquest was linguistic (with a culinary twist).  The actual dialect history is complicated so I will oversimplify and use modern spellings for Old English and Old Norman words.  When William conquered England the English nobility was largely replaced by Norman barons.  So there developed a class divide that was both cultural and linguistic.  The nobility spoke Old French, and the underclasses spoke Old English. (Both had several dialects which is why it’s too complicated to explain here).  Old French persisted among the nobility well into the thirteenth century, not least because the kings of England retained the title of Duke of Normandy, sometimes living more in Normandy than in France. Over time, Old English acquired a large number of words from Old French, and the language eventually evolved into Middle English (Chaucer’s language) and then Modern English.  Hence English often has two words for the same thing – one from Old French and one from Old English; “woodland” (English) and “forest” (French), for example.  When it comes to meats things get interesting.  Generally European languages use the same word for the animal and its meat.  English does this with lamb and chicken.  But not so with beef, pork, and mutton, which come from cows, pigs, and sheep.  The words for the animals are Old English in origin, and the words for the meats are from the Old French words for the animals/meat (modernized: boeuf, porc, mouton).  This is because it was Anglo-Saxon peasants who tended the animals, but Norman nobility who ate them.  Animals in the field had English names; animals on the plate had French ones.

Parts of Normandy, now as of old, consist of rolling countryside typified by pasture for dairy cattle and apple orchards. A wide range of dairy products are produced and exported. Norman cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchâtel, Petit Suisse and Boursin. Normandy butter and Normandy cream are lavishly used in gastronomic specialties.

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Normandy is also a major cider-producing region – European cider, that is, not what people in the U.S. think of.  Perry (like cider but from pears) is also produced, but in less significant quantities. Apple brandy, of which the most famous variety is calvados, is also popular. The mealtime trou normand, or “Norman hole,” is a pause between meal courses in which diners partake of a glassful of calvados in order to improve the appetite and make room for the next course – still observed in many homes and restaurants. Pommeau is an apéritif produced by blending unfermented cider and apple brandy. Another aperitif is the kir normand, a measure of crème de cassis topped up with cider. Bénédictine (why God made monks) is produced in Fécamp.

Apples are widely used in cooking: for example, moules à la normande are mussels cooked with apples and cream, bourdelots are apples baked in pastry, partridges are flamed with reinette apples, and localities all over the province have their own variation of apple tart (baked upside down), tarte tatin.

Cattle and apple products also combine in the legendary tripes à la mode de caen (tripe caen style),  perhaps the most regal, most famous, and most daunting of all tripe dishes.  I promise after this I will leave my tripe fetish alone for a while.

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I’ve slaved hour after hour, day after day at home to try to come up with a serviceable recipe.  I think I now have it, but I want to begin with a fair warning to all cooks who want to try to replicate this dish at home – DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS RECIPE WITHOUT A SAFETY NET.    I’ve had to eat (or pitch out) an awful lot of failures.  The huge problem is that for the dish to be successful the cooking pot must be sealed as tightly as possible to ensure that none of the juices escape during the long slow cooking process.  So you basically have to put it in the oven and simply forget it until your previous experience tells you it’s ready.  But . . . too little cooking time or too slow an oven and the meat is chewy and the sauce thin; too long cooking or too high a flame and you have a gelatinous, soggy, unappetizing mess.  Believe me, I’ve seen it all.  So, my best advice is to save up your pennies and take a gustatory trip to a specialty restaurant or two in Normandy.

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Acquiring even remotely close to the proper ingredients for tripes à la mode de Caen is a tricky (if not impossible) business.  Strictly speaking the offal parts should be from oxen.  Ox feet are essential to provide enough gelatinous and fatty material to make the sauce thick and silky.  The ox tripe should consist of selections from all four stomachs chambers, and not simply the ubiquitous honeycomb tripe.  There are specialized butchers that can get rumen (blanket) and omasum (bible) tripe with some effort, so it’s worth a try.  Chinese butchers often have bible tripe. You are most especially supposed to use fully raw tripe so that it can accept the long slow cooking process, and so you get the true meaty richness that is missing from the generally available parboiled and bleached samples.

I am going to give two recipes here.  The first, a “traditional” version, assumes you can get all the necessary ingredients and that you have the patience for the long effort.  The second, my “cheaters’” version, is for those cooks who have to make do with what they can gather from local supermarkets.  Whichever you choose, this is a big dish and needs lots of hungry eaters.

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©Tripes à la Mode de Caen

Traditional Recipe

Ingredients:

4 ½ lbs of ox tripe including rumen, honeycomb, omasum, and reed.
1 whole ox foot split lengthways
1 lb beef fat
5 medium onions
5 medium carrots
3 small leeks
2 pints French cider (or English)
¼ cup Calvados
fresh thyme sprigs
fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
4 peeled garlic cloves
allspice
salt and pepper
flour paste

Instructions:

Use an ovenproof casserole (preferably earthenware), that will hold all the ingredients compactly.  Peel and slice the onions and carrots into bite sized pieces and use them to line the base of the casserole.  Put the ox foot halves on top of the vegetables.  Cut the tripe into 2” squares and layer them into the casserole.   Make a bundle of herbs (bouquet garni) by tying together 2 sprigs of parsley, with 4 sprigs of thyme and two bay leaves.   Trim the coarse leaves and roots from the leeks, and make sure they are scrubbed thoroughly to remove all traces of dirt.  Tie them in a bundle.  Insert the herbs, garlic, and leeks in among the tripe.  Season with salt and pepper, plus a pinch of allspice.  Slice the beef fat thinly and make a layer that covers the tripe completely.  Pour in the Calvados and then add the cider to cover the meat completely.  The amount given here is approximate and will vary according to the type of vessel used.  (Some cooks use water instead of cider because the cider darkens the tripe too much for their tastes.) Cover the casserole with a tight fitting lid that has been hermetically sealed with a paste made from flour and a little water.  Bake at 275°F/135°C for about 12 hours.

At the end of the cooking time remove the lid of the casserole and discard the flour paste.  Strain off the gravy and skim off the fat carefully.  Remove the vegetables and herbs.  Bone the ox foot and place it in an earthenware serving dish along with the tripe pieces.  Pour over the gravy and serve.

Serves 10.

Cheaters’ Version

Ingredients

4 ½ lbs parboiled tripe (honeycomb and bible if possible)
1 whole ox foot split lengthways (or two calves’ feet, split)
5 medium onions
5 medium carrots
3 leeks
2 pints hard cider
¼ cup applejack
fresh thyme sprigs
fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cloves
salt and pepper

Instructions:

Use a casserole with a tight fitting lid.  Peel and dice the onions and carrots.  Clean the leeks thoroughly, removing the roots and tough leaves, and slice them thickly.  Make a bed of all these vegetables at the base of the casserole.  Cut the tripe into 2” squares and place it over the vegetables along with the ox foot.  Make a bundle of herbs out of the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves using 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme, and 1 or 2 of parsley.  Tuck the herbs in the tripe layer in the casserole along with the garlic and cloves.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste.  Pour in the applejack and enough cider to completely cover the tripe.  Close the lid tightly and give the whole casserole a double wrapping of aluminum foil so that it is as hermetically sealed as possible.  Bake in a 300°F/150°C oven for about 3 hours.

Serve in the same manner as the traditional version with the boned ox foot and tripe covered with the degreased gravy.  It is good to serve it with nice crusty bread and a steaming bowl of freshly boiled new potatoes.

Serves 10-12