Dec 272017
 

On this date in 1836, the worst avalanche in English history happened in Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast. I know that initially you want to say, “WHAT !!!! An avalanche in England – on the south coast ???? Are you kidding me?” No, I’m not. Sussex is not in the Alps, it’s true, but the avalanche happened, and 8 people died in it. Not surprisingly, it remains, to this day, the deadliest avalanche on record in the United Kingdom.

The town of Lewes (pronounced /Lewis/) is about 7 miles north of the Sussex coast, on the River Ouse in a gap in the South Downs, and is known in Sussex for its steep hills. I’ve visited Lewes a number of times on my travels in Sussex. I lived in Sussex for 5 years as a small boy, and my mother and her sister were born there. So, I go back once in a while to see old friends, and mooch about. Lewes is a picturesque town, loaded with local historic sites and good places to eat. Hills rise above the town to the east and west, with Cliffe Hill to the east rising to 538 feet (164 meters) above sea level. The hill has a precipitously sloping western edge which dominates the eastern panorama from the town. In 1836, a row of 7 flimsily constructed workers’ cottages called Boulder Row, on South Street, stood immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill. The total number of inhabitants of Boulder Row is unknown, but contemporary reports indicate that 15 people were in the cottages when the avalanche struck.

The winter of 1836–1837 was exceptionally severe across the whole of Great Britain, with heavy snow, gale force winds and freezing temperatures being recorded in locations all around the country from the end of October 1836 until  April 1837. Very heavy snowfall began across South East England, and in particular over the South Downs, on 24th December 1836, and continued unabated over the Christmas period. Strong winds at the same time created blizzard conditions, with reports of snowdrifts over 10 feet high in some areas of Lewes. Unknown to the inhabitants of the town, the accumulation of snow at the top of Cliffe Hill, driven by a particularly severe gale on Christmas night, had been forming into a large cornice overhanging its almost sheer western edge. On the evening preceding the disaster, a significant build-up of snow was observed falling from the top of the hill into a timber yard close to Boulder Row. The inhabitants were warned that they could be at risk and were advised to leave their homes until the danger had passed, but for their own reasons they chose to ignore the warning.

At 10.15 on the morning of Tuesday 27 December the cornice collapsed more extensively, producing an enormous avalanche of accumulated snow directly on to Boulder Row. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser, reporting the testimony of eyewitnesses, stated: “The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white.” A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling 7 survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but 8 other individuals were found dead. Their names are recorded on a commemorative tablet on the inside wall of South Malling parish church, one mile away, where their funerals and burials took place. The fatalities included people with the family names Barnden, Bridgman and Geer, while survivors included a young laborer Jeremiah Rooke, a middle-aged woman named Fanny Sherlock (or Sharlock) and a two-year-old child, Fanny Boakes, believed to be Sherlock’s granddaughter (the 1841 census records two people matching these names and ages living at the same address in South Street). In the aftermath of the tragedy, a fund was set up by prominent townspeople to provide financial assistance to the survivors and families of the deceased.

A public house called the Snowdrop Inn was built in South Street on the site once occupied by Boulder Row, and still trades under the same name today. The name is testament to the stalwart but black sense of humor of Sussex people. I’ve been to the pub a few times with an old friend from Ferring who enjoys hurtling over the South Downs in antique convertibles, and I humor him. There’s a certain macabre wonder to drinking a pint of Harvey’s (from Lewes brewery), in the location of the deadliest avalanche in UK history. The white dress being worn by Fanny Boakes when she was rescued was preserved and is now in the Anne of Cleves House museum in Lewes.

Lewes is an excellent place for good traditional Sussex cooking at its many pubs, including the Snowdrop, and puddings of all sorts are high on the list of Sussex favorites. Sussex pond pudding is a classic, and I’ve already given a recipe. Sussex bacon pudding is another favorite of mine. It’s a steamed suet pudding, but, unlike its kin, it is not meat surrounded by suet crust; instead, the bacon and suet pudding are all mixed together and steamed. It’s a treat for a snowy day.

Sussex Bacon Pudding

Ingredients

4 oz/125 gm all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2 oz /50 gm shredded suet
1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp powdered sage
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
milk

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, suet, onion, bacon, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the egg and fold all the ingredients together to make a soft dough. Add a little milk if necessary, but do not make the dough too moist.

Grease a 1 pint (600 ml) pudding basin and lay cheesecloth or greaseproof paper inside and overlapping the edges. Put the pudding mixture in the basin, and cover the top with the excess cheesecloth or greaseproof paper. Cover the top with foil, and either tuck it under the rim or secure it with string.

Place the basin in a steamer and steam for 1 ½ hours. When I don’t have a steamer I put a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan, place the basin on top, fill with water to come halfway up the side of the basin, and let the water simmer with the pot covered. Make sure to check the water level every 15 minutes or so. Keep a kettle boiling nearby in case you need to replenish your pot.  Do not let the water go off the boil.

It is traditional to serve this pudding with a white parsley sauce.

Jan 182017
 

aam1

Today is the birthday (1882)  of Alan Alexander “A.A.” Milne best known for his books about the teddy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and also for various poems. Milne actually thought of himself primarily as a playwright but the huge success of Pooh overshadowed all his previous work. Both he and his son, Christopher Robin, spent much of their lives trying to escape the fame of Pooh (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/christopher-robin/ ).

Milne studied mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge graduating in 1903. He collaborated with his brother Kenneth on humorous pieces whilst at Cambridge and their articles appeared over the initials AKM. Milne’s work came to the attention of the magazine Punch, where Milne was to become a contributor and later an assistant editor. He also played for the amateur English cricket team, the Allahakbarries, alongside the likes of J. M. Barrie, P.G. Wodehouse, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Milne joined the British Army in World War I and served as an officer in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and later, after a debilitating illness, the Royal Corps of Signals. He was commissioned into the 4th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 17 February 1915 as a second lieutenant. On 7 July 1916, he was injured while serving in the Battle of the Somme and invalided back to England. Having recovered, he was recruited into Military Intelligence to write propaganda articles for MI 7b between 1916 and 1918. He was discharged in 1919.

aam2

Milne married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and their son Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920. In 1925, Milne bought a country home, Cotchford Farm, in Hartfield, East Sussex. During World War II, Milne was Captain of the British Home Guard in Hartfield & Forest Row, insisting on being plain “Mr. Milne” to the members of his platoon. He retired to the farm after a stroke and brain surgery in 1952 left him an invalid, and by August 1953 “he seemed very old and disenchanted”. Milne died in January 1956, aged 74.

aam3

Milne is most famous for his Pooh books inspired by his son and his stuffed animals, most notably the bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. Christopher Robin Milne’s stuffed bear, originally named “Edward”, was renamed “Winnie-the-Pooh” after a Canadian black bear named Winnie (after Winnipeg), which was used as a military mascot in World War I, and left to London Zoo during the war. “The pooh” comes from a swan called “Pooh”. E. H. Shepard illustrated the original Pooh books, using his own son’s teddy, Growler (“a magnificent bear”), as the model. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger, were incorporated into Milne’s stories, and two more characters – Rabbit and Owl – were created by Milne’s imagination. Christopher Robin Milne’s own toys are now under glass in New York where 750,000 people visit them every year.

Here’s a little selection of Milne’s quotes: some from Pooh, others from elsewhere.  I could have chosen dozens of others, of course. If you are a Milne fan you’ll know these and many more. It’s just a reminder.

 aam4

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.

Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.

Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

I’m not lost for I know where I am. But, where I am may be lost.

The things that make me different are the things that make me.

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

Christopher Milne noted that his father was something of a nostalgic eater; he savored food for the memories it brought back to him as much as for their present flavors. However, he does not say what these dishes were. Various cooks have fancifully created Milne’s non-existent Cottleston pie:

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”

Well, Milne lived most of his life in Sussex, so maybe this old-fashioned Sussex recipe will suit.

aam5

Sussex Churdle Pie

Ingredients

1 oz butter
1 onion, peeled and finely-chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely-chopped
1 lb lambs liver, chopped
2 oz streaky bacon, rind removed and chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
salt and pepper
2 oz fresh breadcrumbs
4 oz Cheddar, shredded
10 oz puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Gently melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then add the garlic, bacon and liver. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, while stirring constantly, until the liver has browned. Add the sage, apple, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another minute and then remove from the heat.

Roll out the pastry and cut it into 7” rounds.  It should make from 4 to 6.

Divide the meat mixture between the pastry circles, and top each one with some cheese and breadcrumbs.

Gather the pastry around to form a purse shape, with the opening at the top.  Squeeze together to form a seal, using a little of the beaten egg to form a seal. Paint the remaining egg wash over the pastry.

Bake the pies, in the oven, for 18-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

Nov 212016
 

pm1

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.

pm2

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.

pm4

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.

pm3

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.”

pm7

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.

pm6

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.

pm8

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.

Feb 092016
 

tp4

Today is the birthday (1737) [O.S. January 29, 1736] of Thomas Paine, an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He was one of the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, primarily because he published the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.” The “corsetmaker” piece was a deliberate slur by opponents. He was a “stay” maker, for sure, but the stays he made were not the whalebone stiffening of corsets, but thick ropes used on sailing ships.

Paine was born in Thetford, in the county of Norfolk, and emigrated to the British North American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–83) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

tp9

Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/death-of-marat/ .

In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of his pamphlets The Age of Reason (1793–94), in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and free thought, and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also published the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1797), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to the U.S. where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral partly because he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity, but also because in the 18th century funerals were small affairs for close intimates only.

tp3

Paine’s Common Sense was influential and incendiary for many reasons. Most importantly, it was written in language that common people could easily grasp. Paine’s ideas were not remotely original, but the arguments of the social philosophers of the day, on which he based his writings, were not widely known outside elite circles. He thus popularized growing revolutionary and democratic sentiments. It must be noted, however, that his words met with some resistance from the elite of the colonies, some of whom, such as John Adams, president after Washington, were opposed to democracy as tantamount to rule by the uneducated.

His arguments against British rule of the colonies may be summarized:

It was absurd for an island to rule a continent.

The North American colonies were not a “British nation,” but composed of influences and peoples from all of Europe.

Even if Britain were the “mother country” of North America, that made her actions all the more horrendous, for no mother would harm her children so brutally.

Being a part of Britain would drag the colonies into unnecessary European wars, and impede international commerce.

The physical distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament, it would take a year or more before the colonies received a response.

The New World was discovered shortly before the Reformation. The Puritans believed that God wanted to give them a safe haven from the persecution of British rule.

Britain ruled the colonies for her own benefit, and did not consider the best interests of the colonists when making laws.

tp2 tp6

On February 19, 1768, he was appointed excise officer to Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast of England. You can’t visit the town without immediately seeing evidence of his presence there from plaques to place names. Lewes is a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments going back to the revolutionary decades of the 17th century. Paine lived above the 15th century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive. In Lewes Paine first became involved in civic matters, and he appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at the age of 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord’s daughter.

tp7

Paine is known to have attended meetings and dined at the White Hart Inn whose chef/owner, William Verrall, recorded all of his recipes in a book that is still in print. Verrall decried the plain eating habits of the English at the time and trumpeted the tastes of the French. At this time the English gentry had mixed feelings about Frenchified “made” dishes – stews, ragouts, complex sauces &c – preferring steaks, chops, and roasts. What we might call a meat and potatoes diet these days. Verrall advocated fricassees and casseroles as well as delicate pairings of ingredients. Well, Paine, being a common man, loved mashed potatoes. Not much scope there for a recipe of the day. Instead I turn to Anglo-French cooking of the 18th century. Here is a typical recipe for an omelet stuffed with poached sorrel – an underused green vegetable these days. It’s easy to grow, and can get out of hand if you do not watch out. It looks a bit like spinach, but is a perennial. Because of the high oxalic acid content it’s a little sour. To make a ragout, poach shredded sorrel leaves in light stock, then drain it and squeeze out excess liquid.

tp8

Here’s the French recipe for omelette à la gendarme taken from Les Soupers de la Cour, Menon (1755) found here http://18thccuisine.blogspot.it/2015/02/omlette-la-gendarme-military-omelette.html .

Omelette à la Gendarme.

Ayez un petit ragoût de farce d’oseille bien fini & bien lié; ajoutez-y du Parmesan rapé & mies de pain; faites une omelette naturelle, un peu mince; dressez-la dans le plat; mettez dessus le ragoût de farce; couvrez avec une autre omelette; garnissez tout autour avec des filets de pain frit que vous collez avec dublanc d’oeuf, de façon que les deux omelttes n’en fassent qu’une, sans que l’on voie la farce; arrosez le dessus avec du beurre; pannez moitié mies de pain & Parmesan; faites prendre couleur au four.

Loosely translated: Make a little sorrel stew (well finished and well appointed) and add some grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Make an omelet, a little thin. Put it in a dish, spread on the sorrel stew, and cover cover with another omelet. Garnish around with slices of fried bread that you stick with down with egg white. Sprinkle the top with butter, and a mix of breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Put it in the oven to give it a little color.

I’d make the omelet first, dot the top with butter, breadcrumbs and cheese, and slip it under the broiler for a minute or two. Then garnish with fried bread or toast.

Jul 272015
 

hb2

Today is the birthday (1870) of Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc, an Anglo-French writer and historian. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century. He was known as a writer, orator, poet, sailor, satirist, man of letters, soldier and political activist. He is notable for his Catholic faith, which had a strong impact on his works, and his writing collaboration with G. K. Chesterton. He was President of the Oxford Union and later MP for Salford from 1906 to 1910. He was a well known disputant, with a number of long-running feuds, but also widely regarded as a humane and sympathetic man. Belloc became a naturalized British subject in 1902, but kept his French citizenship.

hb1

His most lasting legacy is probably his verse, which encompasses comic verses for children and religious poetry. Among his best-remembered poems are from his humorous Cautionary Tales for Children, including “Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion” and “Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death”. The full text can be found here.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27424/27424-h/27424-h.htm

A great variety of poems of all sorts can be found here:

http://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/hilaire_belloc_2012_7.pdf

Belloc was the kind of man I would have liked to have as a friend – kind, amusing, smart, kind, loving, and generous, as well as stubborn and pig headed with strong convictions. Here’s some memorable quotes:

When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

For no one, in our long decline,
So dusty, spiteful and divided,
Had quite such pleasant friends as mine,
Or loved them half as much as I did.

The Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always outlives her conquerers.

It has been discovered that with a dull urban population, all formed under a mechanical system of State education, a suggestion or command, however senseless and unreasoned, will be obeyed if it be sufficiently repeated.

Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.

The Llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat, with an indolent expression and an undulating throat; like an unsuccessful literary man.

From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning
But laughter and the love of friends.
 
Oh, you should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.

Write as the wind blows and command all words like an army!

If we are to be happy, decent and secure of our souls: drink some kind of fermented liquor with one’s food; go on the water from time to time; dance on occasions, and sing in a chorus.

When friendship disappears then there is a space left open to that awful loneliness of the outside world which is like the cold space between the planets. It is an air in which men perish utterly.

Loss and possession, death and life are one, There falls no shadow where there shines no sun.

“No, she laughed.” How on earth could that be done? If you try to laugh and say ‘No’ at the same time, it sounds like neighing — yet people are perpetually doing it in novels. If they did it in real life they would be locked up.

For I know that we laughers have a gross cousinship with the most high, and it is this contrast and perpetual quarrel which feeds a spring of merriment in the soul of a sane man.

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right. 

hb5

Belloc grew up in Slindon and spent most of his life in West Sussex. He always wrote of Sussex as if it were the crown of England and the western Sussex Downs the jewel in that crown. He loved Sussex to the point of idolatry as the place where he was brought up and as his spiritual home. Belloc wrote several works about Sussex including Ha’nacker Mill, The South Country, the travel guide Sussex (1906) and The County of Sussex (1936). One of his best-known works relating to Sussex is The Four Men: a Farrago (1911), in which the four characters, each aspects of Belloc’s personality, travel on a pilgrimage across the county from Robertsbridge in the far east to Harting in the far west. The work has influenced others including Sussex traditional singer, Bob Copper, who retraced Belloc’s steps in the 1980s. Belloc was also a lover of Sussex songs and wrote lyrics for some songs which have since been put to music. Belloc is remembered in an annual celebration in Sussex, known as Belloc Night, that takes place on the writer’s birthday, 27 July, in the manner of Burns Night in Scotland. The celebration includes reading from Belloc’s work and partaking of a bread and cheese supper with pickles.

hb3

So have at it tonight. There are a number of excellent Sussex cheeses courtesy of the modern revolution in English cheese making including Sussex Slipcote, High Weald Duddleswell, Sussex Charmer, and Olde Sussex. Sussex cheeses are made from both sheep’s and cow’s milk. I’ll give the prize to Brighton Blue, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese which is quite mild when young, but becomes stronger with age. It is a little hard to find but the producer, High Weald, has a website:

http://www.highwealddairy.co.uk/

Belloc was a great lover of Burgundy too, so I suggest a pairing of French wine with the English cheeses to celebrate his Anglo-French heritage.