Mar 172017
 

Today is the birthday (1880) and also, possibly, the date of the death (1912) of Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates, an English army officer, and later an Antarctic explorer, who died during the Terra Nova Expedition led by Scott. I gave a reasonably detailed accounting of the Terra Nova Expedition here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/ — so there’s no need to repeat it.  The members of the Expedition died on their return journey due to an unfortunate combination of errors in judgment and bad luck. There’s no point in rehashing all the details.  No one can doubt the courage of all the men who made it to the pole, and the death of Oates has always stood out in my memory: rightly so. Scott ensured his immortality via his journal.

Oates was born in Putney, London, the son of William and Caroline Oates. His family inherited old money, having had land at Gestingthorpe, Essex, for centuries. His father moved the family there when his children were small after succeeding to the Manor of Over Hall, Gestingthorpe. Oates lived in Putney from 1885–91, from the ages of 5 to 11 at 263 Upper Richmond Road. He was one of the first pupils to attend the prep Willington School around the corner in Colinette Road. He was further educated at Eton College, which he left after less than two years owing to ill health. He then attended an army “crammer” in Eastbourne. His father died of typhoid fever in Madeira in 1896 when Oates was aged 16.

In 1898, Oates was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He saw military service during the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, having been transferred to that regiment as a second lieutenant in May 1900. He took part in operations in the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and Cape Colony. In March 1901, he suffered a gunshot wound to his left thigh which shattered his leg and, when it healed, left it an inch shorter than his right leg. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his actions and was brought to public attention at the time.

He was promoted to lieutenant on 8 February 1902, and left Cape Town for England in June that year, after peace had been signed in South Africa the previous month. He was mentioned in despatches by Lord Kitchener in his final despatch dated 23 June 1902. He was promoted to captain in 1906. He later served in Ireland, Egypt, and India. He was often referred to by the nickname “Titus Oates,” after the notorious perjurer – English humor !! In the history books that I read as a boy he was always called “Titus” and I am sure that part of it had to do with the fact that he was legendarily strong and fit.

In 1910, he applied to join Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, and was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses and, to a lesser extent, his ability to make a financial contribution of £1,000 (over £50,000 in modern currency) towards the expedition. Nicknamed “the soldier” by his fellow expedition members, his role was to look after the nineteen ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole.

Oates disagreed with Scott many times on issues of management of the expedition. ‘Their natures jarred on one another,’ a fellow expedition member recalled. When he first saw the ponies that Scott had brought on the expedition, Oates was horrified at the £5 animals, which he said were too old for the job and ‘a wretched load of crocks.’ He later said: ‘Scott’s ignorance about marching with animals is colossal.’ He also wrote in his diary “Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition….He [Scott] is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere…” However, he also wrote that his harsh words were often a product of the hard conditions. Scott, less harshly, called Oates “the cheery old pessimist” and wrote “The Soldier takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.

Captain Scott, Captain Oates and 14 other members of the expedition set off from their Cape Evans base camp for the South Pole on 1 November 1911. At various pre-determined latitude points during the 895-mile (1,440 km) journey, the support members of the expedition were sent back by Scott in teams until on 4 January 1912, at latitude 87° 32′ S, only the five-man polar party of Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, Edgar Evans and Oates remained to walk the last 167 miles (269 km) to the Pole. On 18 January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, they finally reached the Pole only to discover a tent that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had left behind at their Polheim camp after beating them in the race to be first to the Pole. Inside the tent was a note from Amundsen informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.

Scott’s party faced extremely difficult conditions on the return journey, mainly due to the exceptionally adverse weather, poor food supply, injuries sustained from falls, and the effects of scurvy and frostbite, all slowing their progress. On 17 February 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore glacier, Edgar Evans died, suspected by his companions to be the result of a blow to his head suffered during a fall into a crevasse a few days earlier. Oates’s feet had become severely frostbitten and it has been suggested (but never evidenced) that his war wound had re-opened due to the effects of scurvy. He was certainly weakening faster than the others. In his diary entry of 5th March, Scott wrote “Oates’ feet are in a wretched condition… The poor soldier is very nearly done.”

Oates’ slower progress, coupled with the unwillingness of his three remaining companions to leave him, was causing the party to fall behind schedule. With an average of 65 miles (105 km) between the pre-laid food depots and only a week’s worth of food and fuel provided by each depot, they needed to maintain a march of over 9 miles (14 km) a day to have full rations for the final 400 miles (640 km) of their return journey across the Ross Ice Shelf. However, 9 miles (14 km) was about their best progress any day and this had lately reduced to sometimes only 3 miles (4.8 km) a day due to Oates’ worsening condition. On 15 March, Oates told his companions that he could not go on and proposed that they leave him in his sleeping-bag, which they refused to do. He managed a few more miles that day but his condition worsened that night.

Waking on the morning of 16th March, Oates walked out of the tent into a blizzard, and −40 °F (−40 °C) temperatures, to his death. Scott wrote in his diary, “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.” Oates’ sacrifice, however, made no difference to the eventual outcome.

Scott, Wilson, and Bowers continued onwards for a further 20 miles (32 km) towards the ‘One Ton’ food depot that could save them but were halted at latitude 79°40’S by a fierce blizzard on 20th March. Trapped in their tent by the weather and too weak, cold and malnourished to continue, they eventually died nine days later, only eleven miles short of their objective. Their frozen bodies were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912. Oates’s body was never found. Near where he was presumed to have died, the search party erected a cairn and cross bearing the inscription; “Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L. E. G. Oates, of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912, returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard, to try and save his comrades, beset by hardships.” According to Scott’s diary, before Oates exited the tent and walked to his death, he uttered the words “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

We cannot be sure if Oates survived long enough to actually die on his birthday or succumbed the day before. If he died on his birthday he is in good company.  Shakespeare is often said to have been born and died on the same day (ironically, St George’s Day), but his date of birth is only presumed from his baptismal date. We have a similar problem with the Renaissance painter Raphael. Much more assured cases are Ingrid Bergman, Merle Haggard, Betty Friedan, and FDR. I’m not sure how I feel about dying on my birthday. I think it would be fine as long as I was having a party, surrounded by friends, and well into my 90s.

I think it’s a bit morbid to give a recipe for polar survival food on this date given that malnourishment was one of the causes of the party’s slow progress and ultimate death. Besides, I’ve given quite a few already. Instead let’s be a bit more cheery and think about traditional Essex recipes, the county where the Oates family had their hereditary seat. Many Essex recipes focus on oysters and seafood because of the county’s coastline and (former) abundant fisheries. But Gestingthorpe is well inland in farm country, so a farm recipe is in order.  Essex traditional food is not exactly bright with well-known favorites, but there are a few of note.  Essex meat layer pudding looks like a winner.  I will confess that I have not tried it yet, but I will have a go over the weekend and update the post with photos if I have any success. Right now the problem is that suet is impossible to find in Mantua, and I don’t have a pudding basin. The unusual thing about this pudding is that the suet pastry is layered into it, rather than surrounding the pudding.   Judging from the various recipes I’ve read, you can use whatever meat suits.  A mix of pork, veal, and chicken (or 2 out of the 3) is quite common.  This recipe is my version of one taken from this site — https://www.essextouristguide.co.uk/information/in-the-news/articleid/69/favourite-essex-recipes  It looks trustworthy, but I’ve modified it a bit based on experience with steamed puddings.  You can use ground or chopped meat as you prefer.

Essex Meat Layer Pudding

Ingredients

Pastry:

6 oz. flour
¼ tsp salt
3 oz. shredded suet
¼ cup cold water (approx)

Filling:

1 tbsp butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. minced veal (or chicken)
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp celery salt
1 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks,
2 tbsp heavy cream
salt and pepper

Instructions

For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix in the suet. Add just enough water to make a stiff but pliable dough. Wrap in foil or greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator whilst you make the filling.

For the filling, sauté the onions in butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden. Add the meats, herbs, seasonings and flour. Continue to sauté for 5 minutes stirring well, then remove the pan from heat. Beat together the egg yolks and cream and add them to the meat mixture. Sauté over low heat for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Butter a 2½ pint pudding basin, line it with foil,  greaseproof paper, or (best) cheesecloth. Butter this lining as well.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼-inch. Cut a small circle to fit the bottom of the basin and put it in place. Spoon on a layer of meat mixture (about 1½-inches deep) then add another circle of dough to fit. (As you proceed you will need to push the scraps of dough together and roll them out again).  Add another layer of meat. Continue until the filling and dough have been used up, finishing with layer of dough. There should be 3 layers of meat mixture. There should be some room at the top of the basin so that the dough can expand while steaming.

Cover the top of the basin with greaseproof paper or pull up the cheesecloth around the top. Then seal the top with foil.  Steam for about 4 hours. [I am a little iffy about this length of time. I will know better when I try it. 3 hours ought to be enough, but 4 hours won’t hurt, especially if you use chopped rather than ground meat.]

Serves 4

Nov 212016
 

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On this date in  1953  The Natural History Museum in London announced that the “Piltdown Man” skull, initially believed to be one of the most important fossilized hominid skulls ever found, was a hoax. In 1912 amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed he had discovered the “missing link” between ape and human. After finding a section of a human-like skull in Pleistocene gravel beds near Piltdown, East Sussex, Dawson contacted Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum. Dawson and Smith Woodward made further discoveries at the site which they connected to the same individual, including a jawbone, more skull fragments, a set of teeth and primitive tools.

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Smith Woodward reconstructed the skull fragments and hypothesized that they belonged to a human ancestor from 500,000 years ago. The discovery was announced at a Geological Society meeting and was given the Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s dawn-man”). The questionable significance of the assemblage remained the subject of considerable controversy until it was conclusively exposed in 1953 as a forgery. It was found to have consisted of the altered mandible and some teeth of an orangutan deliberately combined with the cranium of a fully developed, though small-brained, modern human (from the Middle Ages).

The Piltdown hoax is prominent for two reasons: the attention it generated around the subject of human evolution in general, and the length of time, 45 years, that elapsed from its alleged initial discovery to its definitive exposure as a composite forgery.

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At a meeting of the Geological Society of London on 18 December 1912, Charles Dawson claimed that a workman at the Piltdown gravel pit had given him a fragment of the skull four years earlier. According to Dawson, workmen at the site discovered the skull shortly before his visit and broke it up in the belief that it was a fossilized coconut. Revisiting the site on several occasions, Dawson found further fragments of the skull and took them to Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of the geological department at the British Museum. Greatly interested by the finds, Woodward accompanied Dawson to the site. Though the two worked together between June and September 1912, Dawson alone recovered more skull fragments and half of the lower jaw bone. The skull unearthed in 1908 was the only find discovered in situ, with most of the other pieces found in the gravel pits’ spoil heaps.

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At the same meeting, Woodward announced that a reconstruction of the fragments indicated that the skull was in many ways similar to that of a modern human, except for the occiput (the part of the skull that sits on the spinal column) and for brain size, which was about two-thirds that of a modern human. He went on to indicate that save for the presence of two human-like molar teeth, the jaw bone found would be indistinguishable from that of a modern, young chimpanzee. From the British Museum’s reconstruction of the skull, Woodward proposed that Piltdown Man represented an evolutionary “missing link” between apes and humans, since the combination of a human-like cranium with an ape-like jaw tended to support the notion then prevailing in England that human evolution began with the brain.

Almost from the outset, Woodward’s reconstruction of the Piltdown fragments was strongly challenged by some researchers. At the Royal College of Surgeons, copies of the same fragments used by the British Museum in their reconstruction were used to produce an entirely different model, one that in brain size and other features resembled a modern human. This reconstruction, by Prof. (later Sir) Arthur Keith, was called Homo piltdownensis in reflection of its more human appearance. The find was also considered legitimate by Otto Schoetensack who had discovered the Heidelberg fossils just a few years earlier. He described it as being the best evidence for an ape-like ancestor of modern humans. French Jesuit paleontologist and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin participated in the uncovering of the Piltdown skull with Woodward.

Woodward’s reconstruction included ape-like canine teeth, which was itself controversial. In August 1913, Woodward, Dawson and Teilhard de Chardin began a systematic search of the spoil heaps specifically to find the missing canines. Teilhard de Chardin soon found a canine that, according to Woodward, fitted the jaw perfectly. A few days later Teilhard de Chardin moved to France and took no further part in the discoveries. Noting that the tooth “corresponds exactly with that of an ape,” Woodward expected the find to end any dispute over his reconstruction of the skull. However, Keith attacked the find. Keith pointed out that human molars are the result of side to side movement when chewing. The canine in the Piltdown jaw was impossible as it prevented side to side movement. To explain the wear on the molar teeth, the canine could not have been any higher than the molars. Grafton Elliot Smith, a fellow anthropologist, sided with Woodward, and at the next Royal Society meeting claimed that Keith’s opposition was motivated entirely by ambition. Keith later recalled, “Such was the end of our long friendship.”

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As early as 1913, David Waterston of King’s College London published in Nature his conclusion that the sample consisted of an ape mandible and human skull. Likewise, French paleontologist Marcellin Boule concluded the same thing in 1915. A third opinion from American zoologist Gerrit Smith Miller concluded Piltdown’s jaw came from a fossil ape. In 1923, Franz Weidenreich examined the remains and correctly reported that they consisted of a modern human cranium and an orangutan jaw with filed-down teeth.

From the outset, some scientists expressed skepticism about the Piltdown find (see above). G.S. Miller, for example, observed in 1915 that “deliberate malice could hardly have been more successful than the hazards of deposition in so breaking the fossils as to give free scope to individual judgment in fitting the parts together.” In the decades prior to its exposure as a forgery in 1953, scientists increasingly regarded Piltdown as an enigmatic aberration inconsistent with the path of hominid evolution as demonstrated by fossils found elsewhere.

Finally, on this date in 1953, Time magazine published evidence gathered variously by Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark and Joseph Weiner proving that the Piltdown Man was a forgery and demonstrating that the fossil was a composite of three distinct species. It consisted of a human skull of medieval age, the 500-year-old lower jaw of an orangutan and chimpanzee fossil teeth. Someone had created the appearance of age by staining the bones with an iron solution and chromic acid. Microscopic examination revealed file-marks on the teeth, and it was deduced from this that someone had modified the teeth to a shape more suited to a human diet.

The Piltdown Man hoax succeeded so well because, at the time of its discovery, the scientific establishment believed that the large modern brain preceded the modern omnivorous diet, and the forgery provided exactly that evidence. It has also been thought that nationalism and cultural prejudice played a role in the less-than-critical acceptance of the fossil as genuine by some British scientists. It satisfied European expectations that the earliest humans would be found in Eurasia, and the British, it has been claimed, also wanted a first Briton to set against fossil hominids found elsewhere in Europe.

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The identity of the Piltdown forger remains uncertain. Suspects have included Dawson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Arthur Keith, Martin A. C. Hinton, Horace de Vere Cole and Arthur Conan Doyle (who lived near Piltdown). Martin Hinton is now generally deemed to be the most likely suspect. In 1970 a long-overlooked trunk was found among his belongings at the Natural History Museum containing bones and teeth that had been artificially stained and aged, similar to the Piltdown “finds.” Hinton joined the staff of the Natural History Museum in 1910, working on mammals, in particular rodents. He became Deputy Keeper of Zoology in 1927 and Keeper in 1936, retiring in 1945. Apparently he had a longstanding quarrel with Woodward, and this hoax may have been payback. Newspapers have tended to be less than cautious in asserting that Hinton was the perpetrator of the hoax. He is definitely a strong contender.

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The area of Sussex around Piltdown is well known for an abundance of traditional recipes. Here’s Ashdown partridge pudding. Suet puddings are not as popular as they used to be because of the heavy doses of animal fat in the crust, but I love them. I see that I have never given a recipe for suet pastry. It’s not complicated mix together a 3 to 1 ratio of flour and finely shredded suet. Mix together thoroughly and then add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough coheres but is not damp. Work it with your hands on a floured surface to make it pliable. This recipe makes a pretty big pudding.

Ashdown Partridge Pudding

Ingredients

1 partridge, jointed
2 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 oz rump steak, sliced
¼ cup claret,
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (sage, thyme)
½ pt game or beef stock,
2lb suet paste

Instructions

Line a well greased pudding basin with 2/3 of the suet paste, and place in the partridge, beef, mushrooms and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the claret and enough of the stock to cover. Cover with the remaining paste, tie down with a covering of greaseproof paper and a pudding cloth or kitchen foil. Place the basin in the top of a steamer and steam for about 3 hrs. Turn the pudding out on a warmed serving platter, and serve hot.

Nov 042016
 

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Today is the celebration of Our Lady of Kazan, also called Theotokos of Kazan (Казанская Богоматерь),  a holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox Church, representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city of Kazan, and a palladium (protector) of all of Russia. According to legend, the icon was originally acquired from Constantinople, lost in 1438 and miraculously recovered in pristine state in 1579. Two major cathedrals, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, are consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan, and display copies of the icon, as do numerous churches throughout the Orthodox community. The original icon in Kazan was stolen, and likely destroyed, in 1904.

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The “Fátima image” is a 16th-century copy of the icon, or possibly the 16th-century original, stolen from St. Petersburg in 1917 and purchased by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1953. It was housed in Fátima in Portugal from 1970 to 1993, in the study of Pope St. John Paul II in the Vatican from 1993 to 2004, when it was returned to Kazan, where it is now kept in the Monastery of the Theotokos. Copies of the image are also venerated in the Roman Catholic Church.

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According to tradition, the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was brought to Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the Tatar conquest of Kazan (1438), the icon disappeared and is not mentioned for more than a century. Its recovery is described in Hermogen’s chronicle, written 1595. According to this account, after a fire destroyed Kazan in 1579, the Virgin appeared to a little girl, Matrona, revealing the location where the icon was hidden. The girl told the archbishop about the dream but was not taken seriously. However, on 8 July 1579, after repetitions of the dream, the girl and her mother recovered the icon on their own, buried under a destroyed house.

Other churches were built in honor of the revelation of the Virgin of Kazan and copies of the image displayed at the Kazan Cathedral of Moscow, at Yaroslavl, and at St. Petersburg. Invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon was credited by the Russian commanders, Dmitry Pozharsky and Mikhail Kutuzov, with helping the country to repel the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon’s invasion of 1812.

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On the night of June 29, 1904, the icon was stolen from the church in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the cathedral was later blown up by the communist authorities). Thieves apparently wanted the icon’s gold frame, which was ornamented with jewels. Several years later, Russian police apprehended the thieves and recovered the frame. The thieves originally declared that the icon itself had been cut to pieces and burnt, although one of them eventually confessed that it was housed in a monastery in the wilds of Siberia. This one, however, was believed to be a fake; and the Russian police refused to investigate, using the logic that it would be very unlucky to venerate a fake icon as though it were authentic. The Orthodox Church interpreted the disappearance of the icon as a sign of tragedies that would plague Russia after the image of the Holy Protectress of Russia had been lost. In fact, some of the Russian peasantry credited all the evils of the Revolution of 1905, as well as Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, to the desecration of the image. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was speculation that the original icon was in fact preserved in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, an icon of Our Lady of Kazan was used in processions around Leningrad fortifications during the Siege of Leningrad.

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There was a conflicting theory that the image had been sold by the Bolsheviks abroad, although such theories were not accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church. The history of the stolen icon between 1917 and 1953 is unknown. In 1953, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges purchased the icon from Arthur Hillman. Although the status of the icon as the original Kazan icon remained disputed, Cyril G.E. Bunt concluded “that it is the work of a great icon painter of the 16th century […] the pigments and the wood of the panel are perfectly preserved as exhaustive X-ray tests have proved, and have mellowed with age”, suggesting that while it was a copy of the original icon, it was nevertheless the original icon carried by Pozharski in 1612. It was exhibited at the World Trade Fair in New York in 1964/5. On 13 September 1965, members of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima spent the night in adoration of the icon in the pavillion in New York. The Blue Army eventually bought the icon from Anna Mitchell-Hedges for $125,000 in January 1970, and the icon was enshrined in Fátima, Portugal.

In 1993, the icon from Fátima was given to Pope St. John Paul II, who took it to the Vatican and had it installed in his study, where he venerated it for eleven years. In his own words, “it has found a home with me and has accompanied my daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze.” John Paul expressed a desire to visit Moscow or Kazan to return the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church personally. When these efforts were blocked by the Moscow Patriarchate, the icon was presented to the Russian Church unconditionally in August 2004. On August 26, 2004, it was exhibited for veneration on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and then delivered to Moscow. On the next feast day of the holy icon, July 21, 2005, Patriarch Alexius II and Mintimer Shaymiev, the President of Tatarstan, placed it in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin.

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The icon is enshrined in the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, part of the former Monastery of the Theotokos, on the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found and plans are underway to make the monastery’s other buildings into an international pilgrimage centre.

Burnt milk pudding is a famous Turkish dish, probably of Tatar origin, in Kazan. If you happen to be in Kazan you can easily find it in stores and restaurants. It’s also easy to make at home. It is best made a day or two ahead of time. You will need a flameproof 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan. It must be made entirely of metal without an enamel coating. Glass or pyrex could shatter. Mastic may be a little hard to come by. Extra vanilla is all right as a substitute, although mastic is more authentic.

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Burnt Milk Pudding

Ingredients

1 pea-sized piece of mastic
1 ½ cups/300 g plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
½ cup/60 g cornstarch
½ cup/55 g all-purpose flour
3 cups/475 ml whole milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Grind the mastic with 1 teaspoon sugar in a mortar and pestle.

Dissolve the cornstarch and flour in 1 ½ cups cold water in a mixing bowl.

Heat the milk and remaining sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the cornstarch and flour mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for 30 seconds, then remove from heat.

Put a 9-by-13-inch flameproof metal baking pan over a medium-high burner and ladle in about 1 cup of the milk mixture, or enough to just cover the bottom of the pan. This is the tricky part. You want to caramelize the milk heavily, so you need to watch carefully as it boils. To get an evenly burned milky bottom, occasionally shift the pan back and forth over the burner using oven mitts. The milk will turn brown and then get darker and darker. The darker the gets, the more flavorful the finished dish will be. Look for a deep chocolate brown color, almost but not completely black. Set the baking pan aside.

Add the vanilla and the mastic mixture to the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then pour it over the burned pudding in the baking pan. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Cut into small squares and transfer with a spatula to individual serving bowls, burned bottoms up.

 

Dec 022015
 

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The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated in CP-1 on this date in 1942, under the supervision of Enrico Fermi, who described the apparatus as “a crude pile of black bricks and wooden timbers”. Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1) was the world’s first nuclear reactor to achieve criticality. Its construction was part of the Manhattan Project, the Allied effort to create atomic bombs during World War II. It was built by the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, under the west viewing stands of the original Stagg Field.

The reactor was assembled in November 1942 under the supervision of Fermi, in collaboration with Leo Szilard, discoverer of the chain reaction, and Herbert L. Anderson, Walter Zinn, Martin D. Whitaker, and George Weil. It contained 45,000 graphite blocks weighing 400 short tons (360 t) used as a neutron moderator, and was fueled by 6 short tons (5.4 t) of uranium metal and 50 short tons (45 t) of uranium oxide. In the pile, some of the free neutrons produced by the natural decay of uranium were absorbed by other uranium atoms, causing nuclear fission of those atoms, and the release of additional free neutrons. Unlike most subsequent nuclear reactors, it had no radiation shield or cooling system as it only operated at very low power. The shape of the pile was intended to be roughly spherical, but as work proceeded Fermi calculated that critical mass could be achieved without finishing the entire pile as planned.

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In 1943, CP-1 was moved to Red Gate Woods, and reconfigured to become Chicago Pile-2 (CP-2). There, it was operated until 1954, when it was dismantled and buried. The stands at Stagg Field were demolished in August 1957, but the site is now a National Historic Landmark and a Chicago Landmark.

The idea of chemical chain reactions was first put forth in 1913 by the German chemist Max Bodenstein for a situation in which two molecules react to form not just the molecules of the final reaction products, but also some unstable molecules which can further react with the parent molecules to cause more molecules to react. The concept of a nuclear chain reaction was first hypothesized by the Hungarian scientist Leo Szilard on 12 September 1933. Szilard realized that if a nuclear reaction produced neutrons or dineutrons, which then caused further nuclear reactions, the process might be self-perpetuating. Szilard proposed using mixtures of lighter known isotopes which produced neutrons in copious amounts, although he did entertain the possibility of using uranium as a fuel. He filed a patent for his idea of a simple nuclear reactor the following year. The discovery of nuclear fission by German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in 1938, followed by its theoretical explanation (and naming) by Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch, opened up the possibility of creating a nuclear chain reaction with uranium or indium, but initial experiments were unsuccessful. Fermi’s experiment marked the dawn of a new era.

I could give you a lot more historical and technical details. It mostly bores me so I cannot imagine what it will do for you. Instead here’s two pieces of relatively unimportant information which amuse me.

First, Fermi christened his apparatus a “pile”. Emilio Segrè later recalled that:

I thought for a while that this term was used to refer to a source of nuclear energy in analogy with Volta’s use of the Italian term pila to denote his own great invention of a source of electrical energy [a battery]. I was disillusioned by Fermi himself, who told me that he simply used the common English word pile as synonymous with heap. To my surprise, Fermi never seemed to have thought of the relationship between his pile and Volta’s.

Pila is still the common Spanish word for a (small disposable) battery. I’m not sure about Italian (I’ll have to ask my students). I know that pila can be used in Italian for a battery, but I am not sure how common it is, or what type of battery. I do remember early on in Buenos Aires asking in a store for batteries for my camera and using batterias only to get blank stares. Batteria in Spanish is used for car batteries and such.

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Anyway, Volta used the word pila for his invention for reasons that are obvious when you see a photo of it. It’s a pile of stuff. It’s amazing how dense world-class physicists can be when it comes to a simple matter of etymology.

Second, I now teach at a technical high school in Mantua named after Fermi: Istituto Superiore Enrico Fermi. I’m not sure how much the students know about Fermi; I’ll find out later when I go in.

While writing the appendix for the Italian edition of the book Fundamentals of Einstein Relativity by August Kopff in 1923, Fermi was the first to point out that hidden inside the famous Einstein equation (E = mc2) was an enormous amount of nuclear potential energy to be exploited. “It does not seem possible, at least in the near future”, he wrote, “to find a way to release these dreadful amounts of energy—which is all to the good because the first effect of an explosion of such a dreadful amount of energy would be to smash into smithereens the physicist who had the misfortune to find a way to do it.” Interesting remarks from the man who was, in fact, the first physicist to do it and was not smashed into smithereens. See http://www.bookofdaystales.com/e-mc%C2%B2/

Chocolate Pudding in a Glass Dish

Apparently in March 1942 Fermi wrote a recipe for chocolate pudding. The essence is that you melt 30 grams of chocolate with ½ teaspoon of sugar per serving in a double boiler. Remove from the heat and whip the chocolate with one egg yolk per person. Pour into individual cups and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours. Serve with toasted almonds and/or whipped cream. This recipe appeared in a newspaper article whose provenance I don’t know. No matter. It’s from Fermi and that’s good enough for me.

Nov 262013
 

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On this date in 1379, New College, Oxford, was founded by William of Wykeham.  This is taken from the college’s website:

New College was founded in 1379 by William of Wykeham (1324-1404), bishop of Winchester, as ‘the college of St Mary of Winchester at Oxford’. Almost immediately it became known as ‘New College’ to distinguish it from the other Oxford college dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Oriel (1326).

New College was founded to praise God; support the Faith, pray for the souls of the Founder, his relatives and other benefactors; and to provide higher education for the clergy. Wykeham had risen from modest beginnings in rural Hampshire to become the chief minister of Edward III, his parvenu status being reflected in his self-confident personal motto adopted by his college: ‘Manners Makyth Man’.

His statutes provided for a college comprising a Warden and 70 fellows, both graduates and, a novelty at the time, undergraduates. Senior fellows taught the juniors, the beginning of a formal tutorial system. Every fellow had to have been a scholar of Wykeham’s other foundation, Winchester College (1382). The provision of religious services, chaplains and choristers were central to Wykeham’s scheme; the choir and choir school persist to this day.

Architecturally New College was innovative in its enclosed quadrangle (finished 1386). The cloisters were completed in 1400.

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In its first medieval heyday, it produced leaders of church and state such as Archbishops of Canterbury Henry Chichele and William Warham and humanist scholars such as William Grocyn, the first teacher of Greek at Oxford.

The Reformation stripped the college of its intellectual leadership, late sixteenth and seventeenth century fellows tending to introspective learning. After the Civil War, during which the college supported the king, the college expanded in wealth and luxury. An additional storey was added to the Front Quad in the 1670s. Between 1682 and 1707 the Garden Quad was built to accommodate a handful of fee-paying Gentlemen Commoners.

Many fellows only lingered after taking their degrees until appointed to lucrative college parishes at which point they resigned and could get married. Until the 1860s, fellows could not marry, although Wardens had done so since 1551.

While not entirely a sybaritic, slothful backwater, New College was prevented by its medieval statutes from adapting to rising demand for university education. The largest college by far in 1379, by 1800, it was one of the smallest, with at most 20 of the 70 Fellows undergraduates, all exclusively Wykehamist and dominated by Founders’ Kin.

I like the “not entirely” in that last paragraph.  Of course, now New College is as up to date as any Oxford college (although I had a couple of pals there in my freshman year for whom “sybaritic” and “slothful” would have been entirely apt epithets).

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At the time of its founding, the College was a grand example of the “Perpendicular style” (late English Gothic)  with the closest resembling college being Merton. New College was larger than all of the six existing Oxford Colleges combined.  At this time the Quadrangle did not have the upper storey seen today, and the the bell tower was added later in the fifteenth century. The upper storey was added in the sixteenth century as attics which, in 1674, were replaced by a third storey as seen today. Also, the oval turf is an eighteenth-century addition. Today, the college is one of Oxford’s most widely visited.  The College’s grounds are among the largest of the Oxford University colleges.

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The Hall, the dining room and formerly lecture hall of the college, measures 80′ by 40′. The paneling was added when Archbishop Warham was bursar of the College in the late fifteenth century. The marble flooring replaced the original flooring in 1722. The open oak roof had been covered by a ceiling at the end of the eighteenth century and little is known of it. It was not until the Junior Common Room offered one thousand pounds to restore the hall roof, that work began on the roof seen today,under the architect Sir Gilbert Scott in 1865. The windows were replaced at the time with painted glass and the portraits moved to a higher level. In giving the uses of the Hall, Wykeham forbade wrestling, dancing, and all noisy games because the chapel adjoined it, and prescribed the use of Latin in conversation.

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The Cloisters and the Chapel are of particular note; much of the medieval stained glass in the ante-chapel has recently been restored. Renowned for its grand interior, some of the stained glass windows were designed by the 18th-century portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds and contain designs by Sir Jacob Epstein and El Greco. The organ was built by the firm of Grant, Degens, and Bradbeer in 1969, in a case designed by George Pace. Somewhat revolutionary at the time, it remains a remarkable instrument today.

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The choir stalls contain 62 14th-century misericords (folding shelves to lean against during long standing prayers), which are of outstanding beauty.

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The niches of the reredos (altar screen) were provided by Sir Gilbert Scott and were fitted with statues in the 19th century.  Near the east end of the chapel is the Founder’s Crosier, a relic overlaid with silver gilt and enamel that resembles a pastoral staff. The bell tower contains one of the oldest rings of ten bells in England, rung by the Oxford Society of Change Ringers and the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry, English change ringing is a mystery to all but the chosen few.  Just accept that a tower with a ring of ten bells is a BIG DEAL. Bell ringers wait years to have a chance to ring them — once or twice in a lifetime.

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The cloisters are often used for dramatic productions.  As an undergraduate I saw a wonderful set of Medieval plays performed here — a perfect location. The cloisters can also be seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Some Oxford colleges are famous for their recipes.  Queen’s college, for example, originated the tradition of the decorated boar’s head for Christmas, and Magdalen college has served specially marinated venison (culled from its deer herd) once a year at a special dinner every year for over 250 years.  These recipes have entered modern cookbooks.  Other colleges’ recipes are less well known, and may not be used nowadays, although they can be found in the college archives.  Such is the case with New College puddings. Recipes can be found in several eighteenth century cookbooks such as this one in English Housewifry by Elizabeth Moxon (1764)

422. To make new COLLEGE PUDDINGS.

Grate an old penny loaf, put to it a like quantity of suet shred, a nutmeg grated, a little salt and some currans, then beat some eggs in a little sack and sugar, mix all together, and knead it as stiff as for manchet, and make it up in the form and size of a turkey’s egg, but a little flatter; take a pound of butter, put it in a dish or stew-pan, and set it over a clear fire in a chafing-dish, and rub your butter about the dish till it is melted, then put your puddings in, and cover the dish, but often turn your puddings till they are brown alike, and when they are enough grate some sugar over them, and serve them up hot.

For a side-dish you must let the paste lie for a quarter of an hour before you make up your puddings.

The entire text of the original book can be found here: http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/book1764moxon.htm

A virtually identical recipe is reported by Janet Clarkson, “the old foodie,” in her excellent blog:, http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2009/07/old-pudding-time.html, taken from Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1736), entitled “To make New-College Puddings.” I am ever so slightly perturbed by the lower case “n” in Moxton, making it seem that this is a new recipe for college pudding (a boiled suet pudding reminiscent of Christmas pudding) rather than a recipe from New College.  But I am going to tamp down my qualms and accept that this recipe is, indeed, from New College, even though I asked an old friend who went to New College about them and he said he had never heard of them.  Not surprising; my college has old recipes it never uses, even for special occasions.  Here is my effort at creating the dish.

New College Pudding

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Combine 1 cup of breadcrumbs and 1 cup of shredded suet. Rub the flour and suet well together with your fingers as you would for pastry, and then add a small handful of raisins and a pinch of salt.  The recipe calls for currants, but I cannot get them in Argentina. Currants would be more delicate.

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Mix together 1 egg with an equal volume of sherry (sack) or brandy, 1 tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of nutmeg, and add this to the flour/suet mix.  Knead with your hands to form a stiff dough.  Let it rest 15 minutes.

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Form into slightly flat egg-shaped balls.

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Fry in ½ inch of vegetable oil heated to 325°F/160°C until they are browned on one side, then flip them.  Do this in batches to avoid lowering the temperature of the oil too much, and overcrowding.

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Drain on a wire rack and dust with granulated sugar.

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They are delicious hot, but a bit heavy cold.  Using self raising flour in place of the breadcrumbs would make them lighter. They screamed to me to be dipped in whipped cream.

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I was not willing to spring for 1lb of butter for frying but I did save one pudding to shallow fry in a knob of butter. It was definitely richer and sweeter than those fried in oil.  In future I will shallow fry them all in butter.

Yield: 6 puddings.