Dec 312017
 

On this date in 1853 a celebrated New Year’s Eve dinner was held in the mold of the Iguanodon being used at the time in the construction of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. It was immortalized in an image in the Illustrated London News (above). Following the closure of the Great Exhibition in October 1851, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace was bought and moved to Penge Place on Sydenham Hill, South London by the newly formed Crystal Palace Company. The grounds that surrounded it were then extensively renovated and turned into a public park with ornamental gardens, replicas of statues and two new artificial lakes. As part of this renovation, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins was commissioned to build the first-ever life-sized models of extinct animals. He had originally planned to just re-create extinct mammals before deciding on building dinosaurs as well, which he did with advice from Sir Richard Owen, a celebrated biologist and paleontologist of the time. Hawkins set up a workshop on site at the park and built the models there. The models were displayed on three islands acting as a rough timeline, the first island for the Paleozoic era, a second for the Mesozoic, and a third for the Cenozoic. The models were given more realism by making the water level in the lake rise and fall, revealing different parts of the dinosaurs. To mark the launch of the models, Hawkins held a special dinner on New Year’s Eve 1853 inside the mold of one of the Iguanodon models, although the exact location of the dinner has been disputed. The mold does not appear to be big enough to accommodate all the invited guests, but there may have been some seated in the mold and some beside it.

Specially engraved invitations were sent out bearing the following:

Mr Waterhouse Hawkins requests the honour of — at dinner in the mould of the Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace on Saturday evening December the 31st at five o’clock 1853 An answer will oblige.

The scene shown in the Illustrated London News depicts a collection of gentlemen sitting around a table inside one of the Iguanodon models under construction over the winter 1853-54. In the image, waiters deliver dinner. On the floor are pieces of the mold used to cast the model. Different reports put Richard Owen at the head of the table and Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins standing center and facing the viewer. The model is surrounded by a tent decorated with a chandelier and four plaques honoring famous paleontologists (William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Gideon Mantell). Because the Iguanodon model stood so tall, a stage was required for waiters and guests to get inside.

This picture in Illustrated London News was based on a drawing made by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, preserved in the Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University. This drawing was meant to be a report to the geologist Joseph Prestwich, but Waterhouse Hawkins intended it for wider circulation. At the time, much was made of the fact that Professor Richard Owen was placed at the head of the table – quite literally, sitting where the brain was located. Waterhouse Hawkins’ drawing was accompanied by a small report.

THE DINNER IN THE MOULD OF THE IGUANODON

Given by Mr. B Waterhouse Hawkins

To Prof R Owen, Prof Edward Forbes, Mr Joseph Prestwich and 18 other Scientific and literary gentlemen at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham on the 31st of December 1853

The Restoration of the lguanodon was one of the largest and earliest completed of Mr Waterhouse Hawkins’ gigantic models measuring thirty feet from the nose to the end of the tail, of that quantity the body with the neck contained about fifteen feet which when the pieces of the mould that formed the ridge of the back were removed the body presented the appearance of a wide open Boot with on enclosed arch seven feet high at both ends. The arch in the head of the animal was occupied by Prof R Owen the celebrated Palaeontologist who with Prof Edward Forbes liberally aided Mr Waterhouse Hawkins with counsel and scientific criticism during the whole time occupied by his unique, arduous and successful undertaking. The wider arch at the opposite end was filled by Mr Francis Fuller the Managing Director of the Crystal Palace with Prof Edward Forbes on his right and a musical friend on his left whose delightful singing greatly increased the pleasure of a memorable evening. The two sides contain nine seats each that in centre of left was occupied by Mr Hawkins as host and Chairman, was supported on his right by Mr Joseph Prestwich one of his earliest pupils & constant friend during the previous twenty five years. Mr John Gould FRS was on his left.

There was an eight-course dinner, details of which we know from copies of the menu card:

Soups: Mock Turtle, Julien, Hare

Fish: Cod and Oyster Sauce, Fillets of Whiting, Turbot à l’Hollandaise

Removes: Roast Turkey, Ham, Raised Pigeon Pie, Boiled Chicken and Celery Sauce

Entrées: Cotolettes de Moutonaux Tomates, Currie de Lapereaux au riz, Salmi de Perdrix, Mayonnaise de filets de Sole

Game: Pheasants, Woodcocks, Snipes

Sweets: Macedoine Jelly, Orange Jelly, Bavaroise, Charlotte Russe, French Pastry, Nougat à la Chantilly, Buisson de Meringue aux Confiture

Dessert: Grapes, Apples, Pears, Almonds and Raisins, French Plums, Pines, Filberts, Walnuts &c, &c

Wines: Sherry, Madeira, Port, Moselle, Claret

Many newspapers reported the event in the following days. All press accounts followed the tongue-in-cheek spirit of holiday celebrations. For example, Punch reported “Fun in a Fossil” (1854 volume 26 page 24),

The world of scientific gastronomy will learn with interest that Professors Owen and Forbes, with a party of other gentlemen, numbering altogether 21, had an exceedingly good dinner, the other day, in the interior of the Iguanodon modelled at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. We congratulate the company on the era in which they live; for if it had been an early geological period, they might perhaps have occupied the Iguanodon’s inside without having any dinner there.

The London Quarterly Review asked,

Saurians, Pterodactyls all! . . . Dreamed ye ever . . . of a race to come dwelling above your tombs and dining on your ghosts.

Hawkins benefited greatly from the public’s reaction to the dinosaurs, including the publicity generated by the dinner in the Iguanodon. He was able to sell sets of small versions of the dinosaur models, priced at £30, for educational use. But the building of the models was costly (around £14,000 each) and in 1855, the Crystal Palace Company cut Hawkins’s funding. Several planned models were never made, while those that were half finished were scrapped, despite protests from sources including the Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

With progress in paleontology, the reputation of the models declined. In 1895, the US fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh scorned the inaccuracy of the models. The models and the park fell into disrepair as the years went by, a process aided by the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself in 1936, and the models became obscured by overgrown foliage. A full restoration of the animals was carried out in 1952 by Victor H.C. Martin, at which time the mammals on the third island were moved to less well-protected locations in the park, where they were exposed to wear and tear. The limestone cliff was blown up in the 1960s.

In 2002, the display was totally renovated. The destroyed limestone cliff was completely replaced using 130 large blocks of Derbyshire limestone, many weighing over 1 ton, rebuilt according to a small model made from the same number of polystyrene blocks. Fiberglass replacements were created for the missing sculptures, and badly damaged parts of the surviving models were recast.

The menu for the meal gives you ample scope for celebratory dishes, and might inspire a New Year’s Eve feast of your own.  Here’s Isabella Beeton’s recipe for Charlotte Russe, which would be perfectly in keeping with the times. If you like, you can add a topping of seasonal fruits. I’m fond of berries. Beeton’s cautions about unmolding the dessert are well taken. I butter a spring-form pan, line it with greaseproof paper, and set the lady fingers in right-side-up. Then fill with the cream mix, let set in the refrigerator, then loose the spring-form. Molding upside-down in a fixed mold, and turning out by inverting is a recipe for disaster.

CHARLOTTE RUSSE.

(An Elegant Sweet Entremets.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—About 18 Savoy biscuits, 3/4 pint of cream, flavouring of vanilla, liqueurs, or wine, 1 tablespoonful of pounded sugar, 1/2 oz. of isinglass.

Mode.—Procure about 18 Savoy biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are sometimes called; brush the edges of them with the white of an egg, and line the bottom of a plain round mould, placing them like a star or rosette. Stand them upright all round the edge; carefully put them so closely together that the white of the egg connects them firmly, and place this case in the oven for about 5 minutes, just to dry the egg. Whisk the cream to a stiff froth, with the sugar, flavouring, and melted isinglass; fill the charlotte with it, cover with a slice of sponge-cake cut in the shape of the mould; place it in ice, where let it remain till ready for table; then turn it on a dish, remove the mould, and serve. 1 tablespoonful of liqueur of any kind, or 4 tablespoonfuls of wine, would nicely flavour the above proportion of cream. For arranging the biscuits in the mould, cut them to the shape required, so that they fit in nicely, and level them with the mould at the top, that, when turned out, there may be something firm to rest upon. Great care and attention is required in the turning out of this dish, that the cream does not burst the case; and the edges of the biscuits must have the smallest quantity of egg brushed over them, or it would stick to the mould, and so prevent the charlotte from coming away properly.

Time.—5 minutes in the oven.

Average cost, with cream at 1s. per pint, 2s.

Sufficient for 1 charlotte. Seasonable at any time.

Sep 082015
 

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Today is the birthday (1886) of Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE, MC one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry both described the horrors of the trenches, and satirized the patriotic pretensions of those who, in Sassoon’s view, were responsible for a jingoism-fuelled war. Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his “Soldier’s Declaration” of 1917, culminating in his admission to a military psychiatric hospital. This resulted in his forming a friendship with Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by him. (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/wilfred-owen/ )

Sassoon was born and grew up in the neo-gothic mansion named “Weirleigh” in Matfield, Kent, to a Jewish father and an Anglo-Catholic mother. His father, Alfred Ezra Sassoon (1861–1895), son of Sassoon David Sassoon, was a member of the wealthy Baghdadi Jewish Sassoon merchant family. For marrying outside the faith, Alfred was disinherited. Siegfried’s mother, Theresa, belonged to the Thornycroft family, sculptors responsible for many of the best-known statues in London—her brother was Sir Hamo Thornycroft. There was no German ancestry in Siegfried’s family; his mother named him Siegfried because of her love of Wagner’s operas. His middle name, Loraine, was the surname of a clergyman with whom she was friendly.

Sassoon was educated at the New Beacon School, Sevenoaks, Kent; at Marlborough College, Marlborough, Wiltshire (where he was a member of Cotton House), and at Clare College, Cambridge, where from 1905 to 1907 he read history. He went down from Cambridge without a degree and spent the next few years hunting, playing cricket and writing verse some of which he published privately. Since his father had been disinherited from the Sassoon fortune for marrying a Gentile, Sassoon had only a small private fortune that allowed him to live modestly without having to earn a living (however, he would later be left a generous legacy by an aunt, Rachel Beer, allowing him to buy the great estate of Heytesbury House in Wiltshire. His first published success, The Daffodil Murderer (1913), was a parody of John Masefield’s The Everlasting Mercy. Robert Graves, in Good-Bye to All That describes it as a “parody of Masefield which, midway through, had forgotten to be a parody and turned into rather good Masefield.”

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Motivated by patriotism, Sassoon joined the British Army just as the threat of a new European war was recognized, and was in service with the Sussex Yeomanry on 4 August 1914, the day the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. He broke his arm badly in a riding accident and was put out of action before even leaving England, spending the spring of 1915 convalescing. He was commissioned into the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve), Royal Welch Fusiliers, as a second lieutenant on 29 May 1915. On 1 November his younger brother Hamo was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign, and in the same month Sassoon was sent to the 1st Battalion in France. There he met Robert Graves, and they became close friends. United by their poetic vocation, they often read and discussed each other’s work. Though this did not have much perceptible influence on Graves’s poetry, his views on what may be called ‘gritty realism’ profoundly affected Sassoon’s concept of what constituted poetry. He soon became horrified by the realities of war, and the tone of his writing changed completely. Where his early poems exhibit a Romantic, dilettantish sweetness, his war poetry moves to an increasingly discordant tone, intended to convey the ugly truths of the trenches to an audience hitherto lulled by patriotic propaganda. Details such as rotting corpses, mangled limbs, filth, cowardice and suicide are all trademarks of his work at this time, and this philosophy of ‘no truth unfitting’ had a significant effect on the movement towards Modernist poetry.

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Sassoon’s periods of duty on the Western Front were marked by exceptionally brave actions, including the single-handed capture of a German trench in the Hindenburg Line. Armed with grenades, he scattered sixty German soldiers. He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupants. A pointless feat, since instead of signaling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.

Sassoon’s bravery was inspiring to the extent that soldiers of his company said that they felt confident only when they were accompanied by him. He often went out on night-raids and bombing patrols and demonstrated ruthless efficiency as a company commander. Deepening depression at the horror and misery the soldiers were forced to endure produced in Sassoon a paradoxically manic courage, and he was nicknamed “Mad Jack” by his men for his near-suicidal exploits. On 27 July 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross; the citation read:

2nd Lt. Siegfried Lorraine [sic] Sassoon, 3rd (attd. 1st) Bn., R. W. Fus.

For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all the killed and wounded were brought in.

Sassoon was also later (unsuccessfully) recommended for the Victoria Cross.

Despite his decorations and reputation, in 1917 Sassoon decided to make a stand against the conduct of the war. One of the reasons for his violent anti-war feeling was the death of his friend David Cuthbert Thomas, who appears as “Dick Tiltwood” in the Sherston trilogy. Sassoon would spend years trying to overcome his grief.

At the end of a spell of convalescent leave, Sassoon declined to return to duty; instead, encouraged by pacifist friends such as Bertrand Russell and Lady Ottoline Morrell, he sent a letter to his commanding officer entitled “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration.” Forwarded to the press and read out in the House of Commons by a sympathetic member of parliament, the letter was seen by some as treasonous (“I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority”) or at best as condemning the war government’s motives (“I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest”). Rather than court-martial Sassoon, the Under-Secretary of State for War, Ian Macpherson, decided that he was unfit for service and had him sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, where he was officially treated for neurasthenia or “shell shock” (now usually referred to as post traumatic stress disorder).

Before declining to return to active service Sassoon had thrown the ribbon of his Military Cross into the river Mersey. According to his description of this incident in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer he did not, as one would infer from the context of his action, do this as a symbolic rejection of militaristic values, but simply out of the need to perform some destructive act in catharsis of the black mood which was afflicting him; one of his pre-war sporting trophies, had he had one to hand, would have served his purpose equally well.

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At Craiglockhart, Sassoon met Wilfred Owen, a fellow poet who would eventually exceed him in fame. It was thanks to Sassoon that Owen persevered in his ambition to write better poetry. A manuscript copy of Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” containing Sassoon’s handwritten amendments survives as testimony to the extent of his influence and is currently on display at London’s Imperial War Museum. Sassoon became to Owen “Keats and Christ and Elijah”; surviving documents demonstrate clearly the depth of Owen’s love and admiration for him.

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Both men returned to active service in France, but Owen was killed in 1918. Sassoon, despite all this, was promoted to lieutenant, and having spent some time out of danger in Palestine, eventually returned to the Front. On 13 July 1918, Sassoon was almost immediately wounded again—by friendly fire when he was shot in the head by a fellow British soldier who had mistaken him for a German near Arras, France. As a result, he spent the remainder of the war in Britain. By this time he had been promoted acting captain. He relinquished his commission on health grounds on 12 March 1919, but was allowed to retain the rank of captain. After the war, Sassoon was instrumental in bringing Owen’s work to the attention of a wider audience. Their friendship is the subject of Stephen MacDonald’s play, Not About Heroes.

Having lived for a period at Oxford, where he spent more time visiting literary friends than studying, he dabbled briefly in the politics of the Labour movement, and in 1919 took up a post as literary editor of the socialist Daily Herald. During his period at the Herald, Sassoon was responsible for employing several eminent names as reviewers, including E. M. Forster and Charlotte Mew, and commissioned original material from “names” like Arnold Bennett and Osbert Sitwell. His artistic interests extended to music. While at Oxford he was introduced to the young William Walton, to whom he became a friend and patron. Walton later dedicated his Portsmouth Point overture to Sassoon in recognition of his financial assistance and moral support. Sassoon later embarked on a lecture tour of the USA, as well as travelling in Europe and throughout Britain. He acquired a car, a gift from the publisher Frankie Schuster, and became renowned among his friends for his lack of driving skill, but this did not prevent him making full use of the mobility it gave him.

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Sassoon was a great admirer of the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan. On a visit to Wales in 1923, he paid a pilgrimage to Vaughan’s grave at Llansantffraed, Powys, and there wrote one of his best-known peacetime poems, “At the Grave of Henry Vaughan”. The deaths of three of his closest friends – Edmund Gosse, Thomas Hardy, and Frankie Schuster (the publisher) – within a short space of time, came as another serious setback to his personal happiness.

At the same time, Sassoon was preparing to take a new direction. While in America, he had experimented with a novel. In 1928, he branched out into prose, with Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, the anonymously-published first volume of a fictionalised autobiography, which was almost immediately accepted as a classic, bringing its author new fame as a humorous writer. The book won the 1928 James Tait Black Award for fiction. Sassoon followed it with Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936). In later years, he revisited his youth and early manhood with three volumes of genuine autobiography, which were also widely acclaimed. These were The Old Century, The Weald of Youth and Siegfried’s Journey.

Siegfried Sassoon died one week before his 81st birthday, of stomach cancer, and is buried at St Andrew’s Church, Mells, Somerset.

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Sassoon was born in Kent which at one time was known as the Garden Of England. It lost that title to South Yorkshire after its orchards and farmlands became overgrown with suburban houses. For centuries it was legendary for cherry and apple orchards, hops, and the nut, related to hazelnuts (filberts), the cobnut. Cobnuts can sometimes be found raw, that is, not dried or roasted, and are delicious in salads. They are also dried like hazelnuts with a similar flavor. I feel some inventiveness coming on, so I am going to speculate on a recipe which I will experiment with when I get hold of a food processor (and counter space for it): cherries with nut crumble. My basic idea is to make a crumble topping, but to replace some of the rolled oats with coarsely ground hazelnuts or cobnuts. So . . .

© Cherry Nut Crumble

First make your cherry filling. Remove the stalks and pit about 20 ounces of sour cherries. Place in a non-reactive pan, cover with a 50-50 mix of sugar and water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the cherries are soft, but not mushy. You can use a 21 ounce can of cherry pie filling if you are lazy. With a slotted spoon transfer the cooked cherries to a deep ovenproof dish.

In a food processor combine 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 cup of granulated sugar, ½ cup of unsalted butter that has been chilled and diced, ½ cup rolled oats, and ½ cup hazelnuts or cobnuts coarsely chopped. Pulse the mix 8 to 10 times until all the ingredients are chopped and well mixed. Pour the crumble mix over the cherries and pat it down firmly. Dot the top with butter and bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cherry filling is bubbling.

Serve with egg custard, vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream.

Crumbles are also delicious served chilled the next day with whipped cream.