Mar 192017
 

Today is Oculi Sunday – the third Sunday in Lent.  The name comes from the first word in Latin of the introit of the day (taken from Psalm 25): Oculi mei semper ad Dominum – My eyes are always on God. If you’re a real stickler you can hear (or sing) the introit as a Gregorian chant.  This site will give you the full monty: text, music, original Latin with translation and commentary, plus an .mp3.

http://chantblog.blogspot.it/2011/03/introit-for-third-sunday-in-lent-oculi.html

My liturgical side is minute (at best), so I’ll pass.

The lectionary Gospel reading this year (Year A) is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  You may need to familiarize yourself with it if your memory is hazy – or you don’t know it.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4

The story has two key elements.  First, Jesus does not treat the woman harshly even though she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus was not a moralist, unlike many contemporary so-called Christians.  Second, the woman was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans generally despised one another (which is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so poignant). Jesus preached tolerance of those who are different from us in religion and culture. We could use a lot more of that kind of tolerance these days.

The story of the woman at the well does not get a lot of coverage in the popular world but, curiously there is an Irish song that tells it:

The story also introduces the idea of “bread of heaven” and “living water” as images of the spiritual life.  Both images are reflected in one of my favorite hymns, Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah):

The history of Samaria and Samaritans, and their historic relations with Jews is rather obscure.  According to the Bible Samaria is roughly coterminous with the region that was originally designated for the two half tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. Here we encounter an immediate problem.  There is no clear evidence that the tribal boundaries given in the Hebrew Bible match historical facts. It is certainly true (in my expert opinion !!!) that the farther back in time we go in the history of Israel, the more unreliable the Bible is. I have no hesitation in saying, for example, that the kings David and Solomon did not exist. At the purported time of their massive kingdoms, Jerusalem was little more than a village of shepherds according to archeology. It is reasonably clear that in the 8th century BCE the region of Samaria was wealthy and opulent. The early prophets Amos and Hosea rail against the region for its ostentation and greed, and this is confirmed by archeology.

In 726–722 BCE, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded Israel and besieged the city of Samaria, the capital. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported. The great mystery is what happened to the people who were deported (the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel), and who took their place. There was a lot of friction between the new Samaritans and the remaining Jews in Judah and in Galilee down to the time of Jesus. But from the outside it’s hard to distinguish between Samaritans and Judeans. The Samaritans used the Torah as their sacred text, celebrated the High Holy Days and so forth.  The Samaritan Torah is somewhat different in places from the classic Jewish Torah, but not significantly. So, why were the Jews and the Samaritans at odds so much? I suspect it was a simple matter of prejudice against newcomers (i.e. immigrants).  We know all about that. In Jesus’ time people usually skirted around Samaria if they were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. Jesus did not. He ploughed through Samaria in a straight line, and was not fazed at all by common prejudice. This behavior got him noticed.

The archeological record of Samaria in Biblical times is chock full of cooking pots. In fact styles of cooking pots are used to date sites and archeological strata.  What was cooked in the pots is mere speculation but some things are reasonably clear. If the people had kilns to fire pots they had ovens to bake yeast bread.  Furthermore, the superabundance of cooking pots tells us that boiling food was the common daily habit.  The Seven Species – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive, and date – were the staples in Biblical times. Meat would have been a rarity, and hunted meat was a bonus. Hence for a celebratory meal I’m going to make a rabbit stew.  Simplicity needs to be the order of the day here.  You can’t brown meat in a ceramic pot. You have to simply add the meat, jointed, to the pot, cover with water and add whatever seasonings you have on hand, such as onions and garlic. Then bring the pot to a simmer and cook for several hours. It’s a very simple dish, obviously, but you can dress it up. Bitter herbs such as horehound and wormwood were available, as were mushrooms in season.

Here’s my effort for the day:

Oct 252016
 

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The Battle of Balaclava took place on this date in 1854 as part of the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855), in turn part of the Crimean War. Inasmuch as I consider all wars to be senseless and tragic, Crimea stands out as possibly the most senseless and tragic of the 19th century, and within that awful context the Charge of the Light Brigade is by far the most senseless and tragic event within the battle and the war. The Crimean War should never have happened in the first place. It happened because of international policy and diplomacy mistakes coupled with proud military figures who felt that they had been idle too long after the Napoleonic Wars. These were still the days when men fought in colorful uniforms using such terms as “glory” and “honor,” but they were also the days of massive canonry that could inflict bloody massacres with ease. When you combine that fact with bone-headed leadership you have the potential for disaster.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was immortalized by Tennyson soon after the news reached England, and his poem is still popular and resonates with lines such as:

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

I don’t have time or space to go on at length about Crimea or Balaclava. I’ll be brief. After being successful at Alma, the British sought to capture the Russian port of Sevastopol. However insufficient resources prevented them from attacking immediately and, instead, they established base in Balaclava. Lack of troops left them open to strategic attack by the Russians who took advantage on 25th October. There were several notable engagements that day but the Charge of the Light Brigade is the one that is remembered most.

The British cavalry available was made up of the Heavy Brigade and the Light Brigade. The Light Brigade, as the name suggests, were a light cavalry force that mounted light, fast horses which were unarmored. The men were armed only with lances and sabers and had no helmets or armor. The brigade was optimized for maximum mobility and speed, and were intended for reconnaissance and skirmishing only. They were also ideal for cutting down infantry and artillery units as they attempted to retreat.

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Lord Raglan, the overall commander, could view the whole battle from heights above Balaclava. He could see that the Russians were successfully withdrawing with the naval guns from the redoubts they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. This would have been an optimum task for the Light Brigade, as their superior speed would ensure the Russians would be forced to either quickly abandon the cumbersome guns or be cut down en masse while they attempted to flee with them

Overall command of the British cavalry brigades rested with General George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan and the Light Brigade was under General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Cardigan and Lucan were brothers-in-law who disliked each other intensely. Lucan received a written order from Lord Raglan stating: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.” However, the lay of the land around Lucan and the cavalry prevented him from seeing the Russians’ efforts to remove the guns from the redoubts and retreat, therefore the order was not clear. The order was drafted by Brigadier Richard Airey and carried by Captain Louis Edward Nolan. Nolan carried the further oral instruction that the cavalry was to attack immediately. When Lucan asked what guns were referred to, Nolan is said to have indicated with a wide sweep of his arm—not the causeway redoubts—but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

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In response to the order, Lucan instructed Cardigan to lead his command of about 670 troopers of the Light Brigade straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights. In “The Charge of the Light Brigade” Tennyson famously called this hollow “The Valley of Death.” The opposing Russian forces were commanded by Pavel Liprandi and included approximately 20 battalions of infantry supported by over 50 artillery pieces. These forces were deployed on both sides and at the opposite end of the valley.

Lucan himself was to follow with the Heavy Brigade. Although the Heavy Brigade was better armored and intended for frontal assaults on infantry positions, neither force was remotely equipped for a frontal assault on a fully dug-in and alerted artillery battery—much less one with an excellent line of sight over a mile in length and supported on two sides by artillery batteries providing enfilading fire from elevated ground. The semi-suicidal nature of this charge was surely evident to the troopers of the Light Brigade, but there is no record of any objection or resistance to the misunderstood command – such was army discipline.

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The Light Brigade set off down the valley with Cardigan out in front, leading the charge. Almost at once Nolan was seen to rush across the front, passing in front of Cardigan. It may be that he then realized the charge was aimed at the wrong target and was attempting to stop or turn the brigade, but he was killed by an artillery shell, and the cavalry continued on its course.

Despite withering fire from three sides that devastated their force on the ride through the valley, the Light Brigade was able to engage the Russian forces at the end of the valley and force them back from the redoubt, but it suffered heavy casualties and was soon forced to retire. The surviving Russian artillerymen returned to their guns and opened fire once again as the Light Brigade withdrew, with grape and canister. Lucan failed to provide any support for Cardigan, and it was speculated that he was motivated by an enmity for his brother-in-law that had lasted some 30 years and had been intensified during the campaign up to that point.

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Cardigan survived the battle. Although stories circulated afterwards that he was not actually present, he led the charge from the front and, never looking back, did not see what was happening to the troops behind him. He reached the Russian guns, took part in the fight, and then returned alone up the valley without bothering to rally or even find out what had happened to the survivors. He afterwards said all he could think about was his rage against Captain Nolan, who he thought had tried to take over the leadership of the charge from him. After riding back up the valley, he considered he had done all that he could and then left the field and went on board his yacht in Balaclava harbor, where he ate a champagne dinner.

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The brigade was not completely destroyed, but did suffer terribly, with 118 men killed, 127 wounded, and about 60 taken prisoner. After regrouping, only 195 men were still with horses. The futility of the action and its reckless bravery prompted the French Marshal Pierre Bosquet to state: “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” (“It is magnificent, but it is not war.”)

The reputation of the British cavalry was significantly enhanced as a result of the charge, though the same cannot be said for their commanders. Lucan was ultimately blamed for ordering the charge and was furious at being made a scapegoat. Raglan claimed he should have exercised his discretion, but throughout the campaign up to that date Lucan considered Raglan had allowed him no independence at all and required that his orders be followed to the letter. Cardigan, who had merely obeyed orders, blamed Lucan for giving those orders. He returned home a hero and was promoted to Inspector General of the Cavalry. After much public debate, Lucan’s name was cleared, but he never again saw active duty.

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Contemporary accounts of the charge tended to focus on the bravery and glory of the cavalrymen, much more than the military blunders involved, with the perverse effect that it encouraged reckless bravery in the army over sanity that lasted all the way to the First World War.

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The fate of the surviving members of the Charge was investigated by Edward James Boys, a military historian, who documented their lives from leaving the army to their deaths. His records are described as being the most definitive project of its kind ever undertaken. Edwin Hughes, who died on 14 May 1927, aged 96, was the last survivor of the charge. In October 1875, survivors of the Charge met at the Alexandra Palace in London to celebrate the 21st  anniversary of the Charge. The celebrations were fully reported in the Illustrated London News of 30 October 1875, which included the recollections of several of the survivors. Tennyson was invited, but could not attend. Lucan, the senior commander surviving, was not present, but attended a separate celebration, held later in the day, with other senior officers at the fashionable Willis’s Rooms, St James’s Square. Reunion dinners were subsequently held for a number of years.

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Among those stationed at Balaclava was Lord General Paget, famous for having charged with the Light Brigade while smoking a cheroot. He sent detailed letters from Crimea which are an invaluable resource. Not least we witness the provisions available to a general. Just before the battle of Balaclava we read:

Oct. 5. — We are in great excitement to-day, having sent down to Balaclava to get stores from a ship, the arrival of which we heard of, and the envoy has returned with a goose, some sheep and potatoes as my share. Cardigan has given in, and gone on board ship, which leaves me topsawyer. Lord Raglan comes up to-day, and occupies a farmhouse.

I have just been dipping into one of my bullock-trunks to find something, and the contents of it will amuse you. On the top there were six or seven onions, wrapped up in a not over well-washed flannel shirt; next to which, in a very dirty old newspaper, are some mole candles, approaching; closely to the articles known as dips, loosely interspersed with these being broken bits of ration biscuit. Diving deeper, my hand arrived on half a loaf of bread, the crumbs of which will be somewhat annoying when I next put on the worsted sock in which it was packed. These with occasional lumps of sugar, pots of preserved meat, halfbroken cigars, a little more dirty linen, a ration of salt pork, and my other pair of boots (not cleaned) fill up a good portion of one trunk, and so unnerve me that I have not the courage to venture on the other, to find what of course I failed to find in the first.

While the generals dined well, I doubt that the rank and file sat down to champagne and roast leg of lamb. What I suspect is that after the battle many of them ate horse meat, which would have been a welcome relief from turnips and camp biscuits. The English have an aversion to horse flesh – not shared by many Europeans – but in the aftermath of the battle there would have been a great deal of dead horses that the cavalrymen had the choice of letting rot or eating.

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Here in Mantua horse meat is a delicacy that is more expensive than beef. It is readily available in supermarkets and there is a butcher selling only prime cuts of horse meat. I eat it once or twice a month and generally use the same recipe ideas that I use for beef. If you can’t get horse meat my recipes won’t help you. The meat can be a tad stronger than beef, but on the whole it tastes much the same if stewed. Commonly I braise it in good beef stock with onions, leeks, cloves and allspice and serve it with potatoes and carrots.

Oct 112016
 

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The Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur begins at sundown today. Until that time it is the eve of Yom Kippur, known as Kol Nidre. Yom Kippur  (יוֹם כִּיפּוּר or יום הכיפורים), which can be translated as the Day of Atonement (or Atonements), is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Observant Jews of all sects traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, sometimes spending most of the day in temple services. Even non-observant Jews usually treat the day with respect, avoiding public or ostensible secular work. Degrees of observation vary widely. In Hebrew Yom Kippur is pronounced with long vowels – Yowm Kippoor – not rhyming with Tom Kipper (pet peeve of mine).

Yom Kippur is the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei) in the Hebrew calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the first day of that month http://www.bookofdaystales.com/rosh-hashanah/ . Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora’im (“Days of Awe”) that commences with Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, Jews are commended to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt.

The Yom Kippur prayer service includes several unique aspects. One is the actual number of prayer services. Unlike a regular day, which has three prayer services (Ma’ariv, the evening prayer; Shacharit, the morning prayer; and Mincha, the afternoon prayer), or a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which have four prayer services (Ma’ariv; Shacharit; Mussaf, the additional prayer; and Mincha), Yom Kippur has five prayer services (Ma’ariv; Shacharit; Musaf; Mincha; and Ne’ilah, the closing prayer). The prayer services also include private and public confessions of sins and a unique prayer dedicated to the special Yom Kippur avodah (service) of the Kohen Gadol (high priest) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

As one of the most culturally significant Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is observed by many secular Jews who may not observe other holidays. Many secular Jews attend temple on Yom Kippur, much as (primarily) secular Christians attend Easter Sunday services. In both cases attendance soars because observance is as much about cultural identity as religious faith.

Erev Yom Kippur (“eve of the day of atonement”), the day preceding Yom Kippur, corresponding to the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, is commemorated with additional morning prayers, asking others for forgiveness, giving charity, performing the kapparot ritual, an extended afternoon prayer service, and two festive meals.

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Leviticus 23:26-28 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest:

26 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. 28 “You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God”

Five additional prohibitions are traditionally observed, as detailed in the Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1). The number five is a set number of special holiness according to tradition.

    No eating and drinking

    No wearing of leather shoes

    No bathing or washing

    No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions

    No marital relations

A parallel has been drawn between these activities and the human condition according to the Biblical account of the expulsion from the garden of Eden. Refraining from these symbolically represents a return to a pristine state, which is the theme of the day. By refraining from these activities, the body is uncomfortable but can still survive. The soul is considered to be the life force in a body. Therefore, by making one’s body uncomfortable, one’s soul is uncomfortable. By feeling pain one can feel how others feel when they are in pain.

Total abstention from food and drink as well as keeping the other traditions begins at sundown, and ends after nightfall the following day. One should add a few minutes to the beginning and end of the day, called tosefet Yom Kippur, lit. “addition to Yom Kippur.” This is sometimes known in English as “putting a hedge around the law” – that is, doing all that is required by the law, and then just a little extra to make sure.

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Virtually all Jewish holidays involve meals, but since Yom Kippur involves fasting, Jewish law requires one to eat a large and festive meal on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, after the Mincha (afternoon) prayer. Before sunset on Kol Nidre worshipers gather in the temple and the Ark is opened and two people take from it two Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). Then they take their places, one on each side of the Hazzan (cantor), and the three recite (in Hebrew):

In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors.

The cantor then chants the Kol Nidre prayer. This prayer is recited in Aramaic. Its name “Kol Nidre” is taken from the opening words, and translates “All vows”:

All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.

The leader and the congregation then say together three times,

May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.

The Torah scrolls are then placed back into the Ark, and the Yom Kippur evening service begins.

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The Kol Nidre meal before Yom Kippur services is very important and can be the subject of much debate. It should be a nourishing meal because the following 24 hours (or so) are meant to be free from food or drink, and it should be a festive meal. But . . . it cannot be a lengthy meal, and preparations cannot be extensive on the day because people are in a hurry to get to temple before sundown (and typically get there on foot). The obvious solution is to prepare a good meal ahead of time, and this gives me the opportunity to talk about the importance of making soups and stews the day before they are to be served.

I’ve frequently talked about the importance of cooking soups and stews ahead of time, and I suspect that most people know that these dishes generally taste better on the second day. The question is – why? The answer is complex, and I’ll begin by admitting that culinary science does not have all parts of the answer – yet. Here’s what we know. Simply continuously cooking soups and stews for lengthy periods of time is not enough to reap the rewards that resting and refrigerating do. That’s good news for the cook (and a nice metaphor for the idea that rest is as important as work for achieving desired outcomes).

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First, there is the issue of “marrying” flavors. I like the metaphor of marriage here. One’s partner can become more attractive to you over time, not because in some “objective” sense they have become more physically attractive, but because you have grown emotionally closer (if you have !!!). Herbs, spices, and other aromas also have an analogous way of blending over time. This process is achieved partly through cooking and partly through resting. The flavors “like” each other more. Second, there are measurable changes in sweetness as complex carbohydrates (such as fructose from vegetables or lactose from dairy) and starches break down into sweeter-tasting simple sugars. This process also causes the mellowing of strong flavors from vegetables such as garlic and onions that tend to stand out on the first day. They are still there on the second day but their new-found sweetness allows them to blend more, as do the fats and collagens from the meats, especially lamb and beef, (pork too, but we’re talking kosher here), which absorb flavors and retain them well for the blending process.

One caveat: soups and stews thickened with egg or starches such as flour or cornflour, will generally not hold their texture overnight. Thickeners should be added on the second day when reheating to ensure proper texture when serving.

All of this means that the best plan is to do the heavy cooking the day before Kol Nidre, and then all you have to do is reheat and finish off the dish the next day before going to Yom Kippur services at sundown. I often work on a three-day plan. Day 1, brown the meats and then simmer them in broth with aromatics. Browning is important because the Maillard reaction generates flavorful sugars. Refrigerate. Day 2, skim the fat that has solidified overnight, reheat and add the vegetables. Adjust seasonings as necessary, simmer until the vegetables are barely cooked (even slightly undercooked), then refrigerate overnight again. Day 3, reheat the dish, thicken as necessary, and serve.

Jun 112016
 

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Today, the second Saturday in June, is National Day in Montserrat, a Caribbean island in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the chain known as the Lesser Antilles, in the British West Indies. It is a British Overseas Territory. Montserrat is approximately 16 km (10 mi) long and 11 km (7 mi) wide, with approximately 40 km (25 mi) of coastline. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island Santa Maria de Montserrate, after the Virgin of Montserrat in the Monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona in Spain.

Archaeological field work in 2012, in Montserrat’s Centre Hills indicated there was an Archaic (pre-Arawak) occupation between 4000 and 2500 BP but the island was uninhabited when Columbus sailed by. A number of Irish settled in Montserrat in 1642, and the Irish population expanded due to the arrival of exiles after Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland (1653). The island was captured by the French in 1666, and shortly afterwards by the English. English control of the island was confirmed under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.

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The Irish and English colonists began to transport African slaves for labor, as was common to most Caribbean islands in the 18th century. The colonists built an economy based on the production of sugar, rum, arrowroot and sea island cotton, cultivated on large plantations using slave labor. By the late 18th century numerous plantations had developed on the island, and many Irish continued to be transported to the island, to work as indentured servants.

On 17 March 1768, slaves rebelled but failed to achieve freedom, but the people of Montserrat celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a public holiday due to the slave revolt. In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, France briefly captured Montserrat after supporting the American cause. The French returned the island to Great Britain under the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended that conflict.

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The Irish constituted a significant proportion of the population from the founding of the colony in 1628. Many were indentured laborers; others were merchants or plantation owners. The geographer Thomas Jeffrey claimed in The West India Atlas (1780) that the majority of those on Montserrat were either Irish or of Irish descent, “so that the use of the Irish language is preserved on the island, even among the Negroes.” There is indirect evidence that the use of the Irish language continued in Montserrat until at least the middle of the 19th century. The Kilkenny diarist and Irish scholar Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin noted in 1831 that he had heard that Irish was still spoken in Montserrat by both black and white inhabitants. A letter by W.F. Butler in The Atheneum (15 July 1905) quotes an account by a Cork civil servant, C. Cremen, of what he had heard from a retired sailor called John O’Donovan, a fluent Irish speaker:

He frequently told me that in the year 1852, when mate of the brig Kaloolah, he went ashore on the island of Montserrat which was then out of the usual track of shipping. He said he was much surprised to hear the negroes actually talking Irish among themselves, and that he joined in the conversation.

There is no evidence for the survival of the Irish language in Montserrat into the 20th century.

Britain abolished slavery in Montserrat and its other Caribbean territories effective August 1834. During the 19th century, falling sugar-prices had an adverse effect on the island’s economy. In 1857, the British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought a sugar estate on the island to prove it was economically viable to employ paid labor rather than slaves. Numerous members of the Sturge family bought additional land. In 1869 the family established the Montserrat Company Limited and planted lime trees, started the commercial production of lime juice, set up a school, and sold parcels of land to the inhabitants of the island. Much of Montserrat came to be owned by smallholders.

From 1871 to 1958, Montserrat was administered as part of the federal crown colony of the British Leeward Islands, becoming a province of the short-lived West Indies Federation from 1958 to 1962. In 1979, The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, opened AIR Studios Montserrat to provide a haven for harried musicians. The studios attracted numerous world-famous musicians, who came to record in the peaceful and lush tropical surroundings of Montserrat.

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The last decade of the 20th century brought two events that devastated the island. In the early hours of 17 September 1989, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck Montserrat with full force, producing sustained winds of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph). It damaged more than 90% of the structures on the island. AIR Studios closed, and the tourist economy was virtually wiped out. Within a few years, the island had recovered considerably, only to be damaged again, and even more severely, six years later by volcanic activity that started in 1995.

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The island now has a population estimated at around 6,000. Approximately 8,000 refugees left the island (primarily to the UK) following the resumption of volcanic activity in July 1995. Now, two-thirds of the population are between the ages of 15 and 64, the vast majority being of mixed Irish and African descent. It is not known with certainty how many African slaves and indentured Irish laborers were brought to the West Indies, though according to one estimate some 60,000 Irish were “Barbadosed” by Oliver Cromwell, some of whom would have arrived in Montserrat.

Today is also the first day of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week in the U.S. which runs from the first to the second Saturday in June. It was proclaimed in the Reagan era to promote dairy products from goats. Ronnie praised goats as hardy, productive animals that were intrinsically linked to the history of the United States. I expect he had a good speech writer; this is the man who thought ketchup was a vegetable.

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By coincidence, goat stew, known locally as goat water or kiddy stew, is the national dish of Montserrat. So you have a choice: cheese or meat. I buy goat cheese quite often when I can. I like its tang, especially in sandwiches and salads. I’m also a fan of goat meat which is harder to find, but is very common in Mantua, where I live now. There are numerous goat farms scattered around the countryside. Goats are common in the rockier regions of Montserrat, where they thrive. Milk-fed kid is as tender as young lamb, but mature goat requires lengthy cooking to be tender. It is more flavorful than kid, though.

Goat water is prepared using goat meat, breadfruit, vegetables, onion, tomato, spices and herbs, and flour. Additional ingredients may also be used, such as rum, whiskey and various tubers. Not surprisingly, there is no canonical recipe; it’s all down to what’s available and cook’s choice. Here’s a reasonable recipe which you can vary as you like. The bouquet garni can have in it various herbs. Mine is normally sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Maggi cubes are made in Nigeria and are the ubiquitous flavoring in West African and Caribbean soups and stews. You can buy them online or in specialty markets. I’m not a big fan, so I use stock. Red chile peppers and tomato paste are also common ingredients, but I have omitted them here. Your choice.

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Goat Water

10 lb goat meat
2 lb/1kg green pawpaw, peeled and diced
2 lb/1kg breadfruit, peeled and diced
1 lb/500g flour
1 lb/500g onions, peeled and diced
cooking oil
2 tbsp gravy browning
bouquet garni
salt & black pepper
stock (or Maggi cubes)

Instructions

Cut the meat into serving pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil over high heat in a heavy pot and lightly brown the meat on all sides. Cover with stock (or water with Maggi cubes) and simmer for at least 2 hours (longer if the meat is still tough.

Gently sauté the pawpaw, breadfruit and onions and sauté in a little cooking oil, then add them to the meat along with a bouquet garni. Continue simmering.

Mix 3 tbsp (45ml) of flour to a smooth paste with water and add 2 tbsp (30ml) gravy browning. Add this mix to the stew.

With the remaining flour, make tiny dumpling (droppers) by making a dough of flour and water that is stiff. Mix the flour and water, a little at a time, until you have a firm ball. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes, then break off small pieces to form the dumplings. Add them to the stew and simmer until they are cooked, about 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread (or white rice).

Mar 092016
 

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On this date in 1841 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its judgment in United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 518, a case resulting from the rebellion of Africans on board the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839. It was an unusual freedom suit that involved international issues and parties, as well as United States law. It has been described as the most important court case involving slavery before being eclipsed by that of Dred Scott.

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On June 27, 1839, La Amistad (“Friendship”), a Spanish vessel, departed from the port of Havana, Cuba (then a Spanish colony), for the Province of Puerto Principe, also in Cuba. The masters of La Amistad were the ship’s captain Ramón Ferrer, José Ruiz, and Pedro Montez, all Spanish nationals. With Ferrer was his personal slave Antonio. Ruiz was transporting 49 Africans, entrusted to him by the governor-general of Cuba. Montez held four additional Africans, also entrusted to him by the governor-general. As the voyage normally took only four days, the crew had brought four days’ worth of rations, not anticipating the strong headwind that slowed the schooner. On July 2, 1839, one of the Africans, Cinqué, freed himself and the other captives using a file that had been found and kept by a woman who, like them, had been on the Tecora (the ship that had transported them illegally as slaves from Africa to Cuba).

The Mende Africans killed the ship’s cook, Celestino, who had told them that they were to be killed and eaten by their captors. The slaves also killed Captain Ferrer; the struggle resulted in the deaths of two Africans as well. Two sailors escaped in a lifeboat. The Africans spared the lives of the two masters who could navigate the ship, José Ruiz and Pedro Montez, upon the condition that they return the ship to Africa. They also spared the captain’s personal slave, Antonio, a creole, and used him as an interpreter with Ruiz and Montez.

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The crew deceived the Africans and steered La Amistad north along the coast of the United States, where the ship was sighted repeatedly. They dropped anchor half a mile off eastern Long Island, New York, on August 26, 1839, at Culloden Point. Some of the Africans went ashore to procure water and provisions from the hamlet of Montauk. The vessel was discovered by the United States revenue cutter USS Washington. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney, commanding the cutter, saw some of the Africans on shore and, assisted by his officers and crew, took custody of La Amistad and the Africans.

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Taking them to the port of New London, Connecticut, he presented officials with a written claim for his property rights under admiralty law for salvage of the vessel, the cargo, and the Africans. Gedney allegedly chose to land in Connecticut because slavery was still technically legal there, unlike in New York. He hoped to profit from sale of the Africans. Gedney transferred the captured Africans to the custody of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, at which time legal proceedings began. The parties to various lawsuits were as follows:

Lt Thomas R. Gedney filed a libel (a lawsuit in admiralty law) for rights to the African captives and cargo on board La Amistad as property seized on the high seas.

Henry Green and Pelatiah Fordham filed a libel for salvage, claiming that they had been the first to discover La Amistad.

José Ruiz and Pedro Montez filed libels requesting that their property of “slaves” and cargo be returned to them.

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, representing the Spanish Government, filed a libel stating that the “slaves,” cargo, and vessel be returned to Spain as its property.

Antonio Vega, vice-consul of Spain, filed a libel for “the slave Antonio,” on the grounds that this man was his personal property.

The Africans denied that they were slaves or property, and that the court could not “return” them to the control of the government of Spain.

As you might surmise, this was an exceptionally complex case. There were matters of sea law, international law, U.S. law, Spanish law, and local law to consider. These matters included the ownership of the vessel and cargo, whether the Africans were slaves or not, whether the killings were justified or murder, and so forth. I’m going to pare things down a lot, and cut to the chase.

A case before the circuit court in Hartford, Connecticut, was filed in September 1839, charging the Africans with mutiny and murder on La Amistad. The court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, because the alleged acts took place on a Spanish ship in Spanish waters. It was entered into the docket books of the federal court as United States v. Cinque, et al.

Various parties filed property claims with the district court as putative owners of the African captives, the ship, and its cargo: Ruiz and Montez, Lieutenant Gedney, and Captain Henry Green (who had met the Africans while on shore on Long Island and claimed to have helped in their capture). The Spanish government asked that the ship, cargo and slaves be restored to Spain under the Pinckney treaty of 1795 between Spain and the United States. Article IX of this treaty holds that “all ships and merchandises of what nature soever, which shall be rescued out of the hands of pirates or robbers on the high seas, shall be restored, entire, to the true proprietor.” The United States filed a claim on behalf of Spain.

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The abolitionist movement had formed the “Amistad Committee”, headed by New York City merchant Lewis Tappan, and had collected money to mount a defense of the Africans. Initially, communication with the Africans was difficult, since they spoke neither English nor Spanish. Professor J. Willard Gibbs, Sr. learned from the Africans to count to ten in their Mende language. He went to the docks of New York City, and counted aloud in front of sailors until he located a person able to understand and translate. He found James Covey, a twenty-year-old sailor on the British man-of-war HMS Buzzard. Covey was a former slave from West Africa.

The abolitionists filed charges of assault, kidnapping, and false imprisonment against Ruiz and Montez. Their arrest in New York City in October 1839 outraged pro-slavery rights advocates and the Spanish government. Montez immediately posted bail and went to Cuba. Ruiz, “more comfortable in a New England setting (and entitled to many amenities not available to the Africans), hoped to garner further public support by staying in jail. Ruiz, however, soon tired of his martyred lifestyle in jail and posted bond. Like Montez, he returned to Cuba.” Outraged, the Spanish minister Cavallero Pedro Alcantara Argaiz made “caustic accusations against America’s judicial system and continued to condemn the abolitionist affront. Ruiz’s imprisonment only added to Argaiz’s anger, and he pressured Forsyth to seek ways to throw out the case altogether.” The Spanish held that the bailbonds that the men had to acquire (so that they could leave jail and return to Cuba) caused them a grave financial burden, and “by the treaty of 1795, no obstacle or impediment [to leave the U.S.] should have [been] placed” in their way.

On January 7, 1840, all the parties, with the Spanish minister representing Ruiz and Montez, appeared before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut and presented their arguments. The abolitionists’ main argument before the district court was that a treaty between Britain and Spain of 1817 and a subsequent pronouncement by the Spanish government had outlawed the slave trade across the Atlantic. They established that the “slaves” had been captured in Mendiland (also spelled Mendeland, current Sierra Leone) in Africa, sold to a Portuguese trader in Lomboko (south of Freetown) in April 1839, and taken to Havana illegally on a Portuguese ship. As the Africans were victims of illegal kidnapping, the abolitionists argued they were not slaves and were free to return to Africa. Their papers wrongly identified them as slaves who had been in Cuba since before 1820 (and were thus considered to have been born there as slaves). They contended that government officials in Cuba condoned such mistaken classifications.

Concerned about relations with Spain and his re-election prospects in the South, the Democratic President Martin Van Buren sided with the Spanish position. He ordered a U.S. schooner to New Haven Harbor to return the Africans to Cuba immediately after a favorable decision, before any appeals could be decided.

The district court ruled in favor of the abolitionist and Africans’ position. In January 1840, it ordered that the Africans be returned to their homeland by the U.S. government, and that one-third of La Amistad and its cargo be given to Lieutenant Gedney as salvage property. (The federal government had outlawed the slave trade between the U.S. and other countries in 1808; an 1818 law, as amended in 1819, provided for the return of all illegally traded slaves.) The captain’s personal slave Antonio was declared the rightful property of the captain’s heirs and was ordered restored to Cuba (Sterne said that he willingly returned to Cuba.) Smithsonian sources say that he escaped to New York, or to Canada, with the help of an abolitionist group).

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In detail, the district court ruled as follows:

It rejected the claim of the U.S. Attorney, argued on behalf of the Spanish minister, for the restoration of the slaves.

It dismissed the claims of Ruiz and Montez.

It ordered that the captives be delivered to the custody of the President of the United States for transportation to Africa, since they were, in fact, legally free.

It allowed the Spanish vice-consul to claim the slave Antonio.

It allowed Lt. Gedney to claim one-third of the property on board La Amistad.

It dismissed the claims of Green and Fordham for salvage.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, by order of Van Buren, immediately appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Connecticut District. He challenged every part of the district court’s ruling except the concession of the slave Antonio to the Spanish vice-consul. Ruiz and Montez, and the owners of La Amistad, did not appeal.

The circuit court of appeals affirmed the district court’s decision in April 1840. The U.S. Attorney appealed the federal government’s case to the United States Supreme Court. John Quincy Adams, former president of the United States and at that time a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, had agreed to argue for the Africans.

On March 9, Associate Justice Joseph Story delivered the Court’s decision. Article IX of Pinckney’s Treaty was ruled off topic since the Africans in question were never legal property. They were not criminals, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued, but rather “unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly and wrongfully carried on board a certain vessel”. The documents submitted by Attorney General Gilpin were not evidence of property, but rather of fraud on the part of the Spanish government. Lt. Gedney and the USS Washington were to be awarded salvage from the vessel for having performed “a highly meritorious and useful service to the proprietors of the ship and cargo.”

When La Amistad came into Long Island, however, the Court believed it to be in the possession of the Africans on board, who had never intended to become slaves.

Upon the whole, our opinion is, that the decree of the circuit court, affirming that of the district court, ought to be affirmed, except so far as it directs the negroes to be delivered to the president, to be transported to Africa, in pursuance of the act of the 3rd of March 1819; and as to this, it ought to be reversed: and that the said negroes be declared to be free, and be dismissed from the custody of the court, and go without delay.

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Abolitionist supporters took the survivors – 36 men and boys and three girls – to Farmington, a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Their residents had agreed to have the Africans stay there until they could return to their homeland. Some households took them in; supporters also provided barracks for them. The Amistad Committee instructed the Africans in English and Christianity, and raised funds to pay for their return home. Along with several missionaries, in 1842 the surviving 39 Africans sailed to Sierra Leone.

The case was of considerable importance in the lead up to the U.S. Civil War, not least because it magnified the cracks in the Union, and pointed out the significant inconsistencies in the law – notably that the Atlantic slave trade was illegal, but the ownership of slaves was still legal in many U.S. states, especially in the South, and these states had no intention of giving up their slaves. Hard times were coming.

In honor of the freed Mende people I offer a simple recipe from Sierra Leone, their homeland. Cassava has been a staple in Sierra Leone for centuries – both leaves and tubers. You can also use the starch, called tapioca, as a thickening agent or as a general ingredient. There is a big problem with cassava, however. Cassava is classified as either sweet or bitter. Like other roots and tubers, both bitter and sweet varieties of cassava contain antinutritional factors and toxins, with the bitter varieties containing much larger amounts. They must be properly prepared before consumption, as improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication, which can lead to paralysis, and, in the worst cases, death. Fortunately, in Western markets the sweet varieties predominate. They do contain cyanide in small quantities, but it is easily removed by fully cooking the leaves or tubers. This particular cassava leaf stew is extremely sumptuous and would only be made for special occasions. Of course, there are endless variations. Palm oil is causing havoc to the environment these days in many areas, so, if you use it make sure it is from a sustainable source. Peanut butter is also a very traditional ingredient, but some people use coconut milk instead. Maggi cubes, courtesy of British colonialism, are now the ubiquitous replacement for beef stock.

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Cassava Leaf Stew

Ingredients:

300g cassava leaves, pounded
300g beef, cubed
3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter
200 ml palm oil
1 whole fish (tilapia or mackerel)
2 onions, finely chopped
3 fresh okra, finely chopped
hot chile, to taste
beef stock (or Maggi cubes)
2 tbsp dried crayfish, ground
salt

Instructions:

Put the meat, whole fish, salt and 2 cups of water or broth in a cooking pot. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish, let it cool a little, and separate the fish from the bones. Set aside.

Add the cassava leaves to the pot along with the peanut butter dissolved in a cup of warm water.

Add the onion, chile pepper and several more cups of broth. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Return the fish to the pot along with the crayfish powder and okra. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You should not add so much broth that the stew is soup-like. This takes practice. If necessary, reduce the sauce until it is thick.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

Jan 032015
 

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Today is the birthday (1892) of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, English writer, poet, and philologist, best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at my Oxford college, Pembroke, from 1925 to 1945, and in his last years when I was in residence he was often seen at dinner. I had the good fortune to meet him in 1971. His celebrity status as a fantasy writer was in its early phases back then because his books did not gain popularity until the 1960’s. Nonetheless, we were amazed to be able to talk to him. By then he looked like a gnarly old tree from Middle Earth.

There is no real need to talk about his well-known books. Instead I will give you (in synopsis) two aspects of his life that are less well known: his service in the army in the First World War, and his linguistic scholarship.jrr1

In 1914 when the United Kingdom entered the First World War, Tolkien’s relatives were shocked that he did not immediately volunteer for the British Army. In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, Tolkien recalled, “In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” Instead, Tolkien endured the family and public scorn and entered a university program that allowed him to delayed enlistment until completing his degree. By the time he passed his Finals in July 1915, Tolkien recalled that the hints were, “becoming outspoken from relatives.” So he volunteered as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months. In a letter to his fiancée, Edith, Tolkien complained, “Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed.” They were married soon after and lived near the training camp.

On 2 June 1916, Tolkien received a telegram summoning him to Folkestone for transportation to France. He later wrote, “Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then … it was like a death.”

On 7 June, Tolkien was informed that he had been assigned as a signals officer to the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, which had been decimated by heavy fighting at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He left for the trenches on 27 June 1916 and joined his new unit at Rubempré, near Amiens and was put in command of enlisted men who were drawn mainly from the mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. According to John Garth, Tolkien “felt an affinity for these working class men,” but military protocol forbade him from developing friendships with “other ranks”. Instead, he was required to “take charge of them, discipline them, train them, and probably censor their letters… If possible, he was supposed to inspire their love and loyalty.” He later wrote, “The most improper job of any man… is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Tolkien’s brigade was sent to the Somme in early July 1916. In between terms behind the lines at Bouzincourt, he participated in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoubt and the Leipzig Salient. According to the memoirs of the Reverend Mervyn S. Evers, Anglican chaplain to the Lancashire Fusiliers:

On one occasion I spent the night with the Brigade Machine Gun Officer and the Signals Officer [Tolkien] in one of the captured German dugouts … We dossed down for the night in the hopes of getting some sleep, but it was not to be. We no sooner lay down than hordes of lice got up. So we went round to the Medical Officer, who was also in the dugout with his equipment, and he gave us some ointment which he assured us would keep the little brutes away. We anointed ourselves all over with the stuff and again lay down in great hopes, but it was not to be, because instead of discouraging them it seemed to act like a kind of hors d’oeuvre and the little beggars went at their feast with renewed vigour.

Tolkien’s time in combat was a terrible stress for Edith, who feared that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband’s death. To get around the British Army’s postal censorship, the Tolkiens developed a secret code for his letters home. By using the code, Edith could track her husband’s movements on a map of the Western Front.

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On 27 October 1916, as his battalion attacked Regina Trench, Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by lice. He was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends were killed in the war. Among their number were Rob Gilson of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, who was killed on the first day of the Somme while leading his men in the assault on Beaumont Hamel. Fellow T.C.B.S. member Geoffrey Smith was killed during the same battle when a German artillery shell landed on a first aid post. Tolkien’s battalion was almost completely wiped out following.

Tolkien might well have been killed himself, but he had suffered from health problems and had been removed from combat multiple times.

According to John Garth:

Although Kitchener’s army enshrined old social boundaries, it also chipped away at the class divide by throwing men from all walks of life into a desperate situation together. Tolkien wrote that the experience taught him, ‘a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy; especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.’ He remained profoundly grateful for the lesson. For a long time, he had been imprisoned in a tower, not of pearl, but of ivory.

In later years, Tolkien indignantly declared that those who searched his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken:

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.

A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service.

During his recovery in a cottage in Little Haywood, Staffordshire, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps and was promoted to Lieutenant. When he was stationed at Kingston-upon-Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock. After his wife’s death in 1971, Tolkien remembered,

I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.

This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien and these names are inscribed on their headstone.

Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. He wrote that he struggled mightily with “walrus.” In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest lecturer there. While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon, both becoming academic standard works for several decades. He also translated other Old English works In 1925, he went to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. During his time at Pembroke he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.

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In the 1920’s, Tolkien began a translation of Beowulf, which he finished in 1926, but never published. It was finally edited by his son and published in 2014, almost 90 years after its completion. Ten years after finishing his translation, Tolkien gave a highly acclaimed lecture on the work entitled “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” which had a lasting influence on Beowulf research. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about Beowulf is “widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism,” noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to its purely linguistic elements. At the time, the consensus of scholarship deprecated Beowulf for dealing with childish battles with monsters rather than realistic tribal warfare. Tolkien argued that the author of Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem. Where Beowulf does deal with specific tribal struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded Beowulf: “Beowulf is among my most valued sources,” and this influence may be seen throughout the general background of Middle-earth. According to Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien had a unique way of beginning his series of lectures on Beowulf:

He would come silently into the room, fix the audience with his gaze, and suddenly begin to declaim in a resounding voice the opening lines of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, commencing with a great cry of Hwæt! (The first word of this and several other Old English poems), which some undergraduates took to be ‘Quiet!’ It was not so much a recitation as a dramatic performance, an impersonation of an Anglo-Saxon bard in a mead hall, and it impressed generations of students because it brought home to them that Beowulf was not just a set text to be read for the purposes of examination, but a powerful piece of dramatic poetry.

Decades later, W.H. Auden wrote in a letter to Tolkien who was one of his teachers at Oxford,

I don’t think that I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf.

Tolkien learned Latin, French, and German from his mother, and while at school he learned Middle English, Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Old Norse, Spanish, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. He was also familiar with Danish, Dutch, Lombardic, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Swedish and older forms of modern Germanic and Slavonic languages, and started constructing his own languages as a teenager. A true linguist!

Since Tolkien’s primary academic interest was Old English it seems right to give you an Anglo-Saxon recipe. This one has been reconstructed from 7th century descriptions. It’s pretty simple and delicious.  You can use rabbit in place of hare.

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Hare Stew with Barley

Ingredients

2 oz butter
1 hare
1lb washed and trimmed leeks, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
6 oz pearl barley
3 tbsps vinegar
2 bay leaves
salt and, pepper
15 fresh, roughly chopped sage leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried sage

Instructions

Heat the butter on medium high heat in a heavy saucepan and sauté the garlic and leeks until softened. Reserve them.

Joint the hare and brown with what remains of the butter.

Return the leeks and garlic to the pot. Add the barley, vinegar, bay leaves and sage, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cover with water or light stock.

Bring the pot to the boil and then simmer gently, covered, for at least 1 ½ hours. Make sure the barley is thoroughly cooked and the hare is tender.

Adjust the seasonings and serve in deep bowls with wholewheat bread.

Serves 6