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.

Jul 182013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here is the original:

My Lady Of Portland’s Minced Pyes

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

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

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

My Lady Of Portland’s Minced Pyes

Ingredients:

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

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°F

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

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

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

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

Can be served hot or cold.

Serves 4-6

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

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