Jan 312018
 

Today is the birthday (1872) of Pearl Zane Grey, US author (and dentist), best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book. In addition to the commercial success of his printed works, they had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and television productions. His novels and short stories have been adapted into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.

Grey was born in Zanesville, Ohio. His birth name may have originated from newspaper descriptions of Queen Victoria’s mourning clothes as “pearl grey.” He was the fourth of five children born to Alice “Allie” Josephine Zane, whose English Quaker immigrant ancestor Robert Zane migrated to the North American colonies in 1673, and her husband, Lewis M. Gray, a dentist. His family changed the spelling of their last name to “Grey” after his birth. Later Grey dropped Pearl and used Zane as his first name. He grew up in Zanesville, a city founded by his maternal great-grandfather Ebenezer Zane, an American Revolutionary War patriot, and from an early age, he was intrigued by history. Grey developed interests in fishing, baseball, and writing, all of which contributed to his writing success. His first three novels recounted the heroism of ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

As a child, Grey frequently engaged in violent brawls even though they resulted in frequent beatings from his father. Grey found a father figure in Muddy Miser, an old man who approved of Grey’s love of fishing and writing, and who talked about the advantages of an unconventional life. Despite warnings by Grey’s father to steer clear of Miser, Grey spent considerable time during five formative years in the company of the old man.

Grey was an avid reader of adventure stories such as Robinson Crusoe and the Leatherstocking Tales, as well as dime novels featuring Buffalo Bill and Deadwood Dick. He was enthralled by and crudely copied the great illustrators Howard Pyle and Frederic Remington. He was particularly impressed with Our Western Border, a history of the Ohio frontier that likely inspired his earliest novels. He wrote his first story, “Jim of the Cave,” when he was 15. His father tore it to shreds and beat him. Both Zane and his brother Romer were active, athletic boys who were enthusiastic baseball players and fishermen.

Due to shame from a severe financial setback in 1889 caused by a poor investment, Lewis Grey moved his family from Zanesville and started again in Columbus, Ohio. While his father struggled to re-establish his dental practice, Zane Grey made rural house calls and performed basic extractions, which his father had taught him. The younger Grey practiced until the state board intervened. He also played summer baseball for the Columbus Capitols, with aspirations of becoming a major league player. Eventually, he was spotted by a baseball scout and received offers from many colleges.

Grey chose the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship, where he studied dentistry. When he arrived at Penn, he had to prove himself worthy of a scholarship before receiving it. He rose to the occasion by coming in to pitch against the Riverton club, pitching five scoreless innings and producing a double in the tenth which contributed to the win. Grey was a solid hitter and an excellent pitcher who relied on a sharply dropping curve ball. When the distance from the pitcher’s mound to the plate was lengthened by ten feet in 1894 (primarily to reduce the dominance of Cy Young’s pitching), the effectiveness of Grey’s pitching suffered. He was re-positioned to the outfield but remained a campus hero on the strength of his hitting.

He was an indifferent scholar, barely achieving a minimum average. Outside class he spent his time on baseball, swimming, and creative writing, especially poetry. Grey struggled with the idea of becoming a writer or baseball player for his career but concluded that dentistry was the practical choice. He went on to play minor league baseball with several teams, including the Newark, New Jersey Colts in 1898 and also with the Orange Athletic Club for several years.

After graduating, Grey established his practice in New York City under the name of Dr. Zane Grey in 1896. It was a competitive area but he wanted to be close to publishers. He began to write in the evening to offset the tedium of his dental practice. Whenever possible, he played baseball with the Orange Athletic Club in New Jersey.

Grey often went camping with his brother in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, where they fished in the upper Delaware River. When canoeing in 1900, Grey met 17-year-old Lina Roth, better known as “Dolly”. Dolly came from a family of physicians and was studying to be a schoolteacher. After a passionate and intense courtship marked by frequent quarrels, Grey and Dolly married 5 years later in 1905. Grey suffered bouts of depression, anger, and mood swings, which affected him most of his life. During his courtship of Dolly, Grey still saw previous girlfriends and warned her frankly,

But I love to be free. I cannot change my spots. The ordinary man is satisfied with a moderate income, a home, wife, children, and all that…. But I am a million miles from being that kind of man and no amount of trying will ever do any good… I shall never lose the spirit of my interest in women.

After they married in 1905, Dolly gave up her teaching career. They moved to a farmhouse at the confluence of the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers, in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, where Grey’s mother and sister joined them. (This house, now preserved and operated as the Zane Grey Museum, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) I used to visit quite often because Lackawaxen is on the old Delaware and Hudson canal as was the house where I lived, and both my village and Lackawaxen were sites of suspension aqueducts built by John Roebling before he designed the Brooklyn Bridge.

While Dolly managed Grey’s career and raised their three children over the next two decades, Grey often spent months away from the family. He fished, wrote, and spent time with his many mistresses. While Dolly knew of his behavior, she tolerated it. In addition to her considerable editorial skills, she had good business sense and handled all his contract negotiations with publishers, agents, and movie studios. All his income was split 50-50 with her. From her half she covered all family expenses. Their considerable correspondence shows evidence of his lasting love for her despite his infidelities and personal emotional turmoil.

With the help of Dolly’s proofreading and copy editing, Grey gradually improved his writing. His first magazine article, “A Day on the Delaware,” a human-interest story about a Grey brothers’ fishing expedition, was published in the May 1902 issue of Recreation magazine. Around this time, Grey read Owen Wister’s Western novel The Virginian. After studying its style and structure in detail, he decided to write a full-length work. Grey had difficulties in writing his first novel, Betty Zane (1903). The novel dramatized the heroism of an ancestor who had saved Fort Henry. When it was rejected by Harper & Brothers, he lapsed into despair and self-published it, probably with money borrowed from family.

After attending a lecture in New York in 1907 by Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones, western hunter and guide who had co-founded Garden City, Kansas, Grey arranged for a mountain lion-hunting trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. He took along a camera to document his trips and also began the habit of taking copious notes, not only of scenery and activities, but also of dialogue. He gained the confidence to write convincingly about the American West, its characters, and its landscape. Treacherous river crossings, unpredictable beasts, bone-chilling cold, searing heat, parching thirst, bad water, irascible tempers, and heroic cooperation all became real to him.

Upon returning home in 1909, Grey wrote a new novel, The Last of the Plainsmen, describing the adventures of Buffalo Jones. Harper’s editor Ripley Hitchcock rejected it, the fourth work in a row. He told Grey, “I do not see anything in this to convince me you can write either narrative or fiction.” Grey wrote dejectedly,

I don’t know which way to turn. I cannot decide what to write next. That which I desire to write does not seem to be what the editors want… I am full of stories and zeal and fire… yet I am inhibited by doubt, by fear that my feeling for life is false.

I know the feeling. I’d estimate I have had close to 100 rejection letters from publishers. It’s depressing, but you either keep trying or give up.

With the birth of his first child pending, Grey felt compelled to complete his next novel, The Heritage of the Desert. He wrote it in four months in 1910. It quickly became a bestseller. Two years later Grey produced his best-known book, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), his all-time best-seller, and one of the most successful Western novels of all time. After that Harper eagerly received all his manuscripts.

The Greys moved to California in 1918. In 1920 they settled in Altadena, California, where Grey bought a prominent mansion on East Mariposa Street.  By this time Grey had both the time and money to engage in his great passion for fishing. From 1918 until 1932, he was a regular contributor to Outdoor Life magazine. He kept a cabin in Oregon, and also began deep-see fishing in Florida, and later in Australia and New Zealand (where his fishing lodge is still a popular tourist destination), and also regularly in Tahiti.

Zane Grey died of heart failure on October 23, 1939, at his home in Altadena, California. He was interred at the Lackawaxen and Union Cemetery, Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania.

There is a Zane Grey Cookbook which you’d think had recipes from Grey’s notes, or memories of dishes he’d cooked around the campfire. Not so. The only thing Zane Grey about the book is the title. The recipes in it are collections of ideas for dishes he might have enjoyed. On the other hand, I used to live on the Neversink River, a tributary of the Delaware where Grey fished, and a well-known fly-fishing spot. The Delaware and tributaries are legendary spots for brook trout. Brook trout is one of the best fish to grill or pan fry when caught fresh. For me, it depended on whether I had my fire pit cranked up or not, whether I grilled it over wood coals or pan fried it. It’s best over coals, but a bit of a chore if you have only one fish.

If you have a fish that was just caught, as I often did, preparation is very simple. There are no heavy scales to remove. You need a good sharp, pointed knife. Slit the belly open from just below the throat to the base of the tail. Slice through the meat only so that you do not pierce any of the guts. Insert a finger in the slit and remove the intestines, stomach, and other entrails. Then wash the cavity in running water, and pat the fish dry, inside and out, with paper towels.

Depending on the size of the fish it will cook in only a few minutes as long as the pan or grill is good and hot before you start cooking. When using my cast-iron skillet, I rubbed it with a paper towel moistened with olive oil, and then heated it to smoking and laid in the fish. About 3 minutes on one side was enough, then turn and cook it on the other side. You have to be a little careful turning the fish because it can break easily. I used a very wide spatula. For fire grilling, they make special grilling baskets that are hinged, so that the fish is secured inside, and you can flip it simply by turning the whole basket over by the handles.

You can put lemon slices and/or fresh herbs and butter in the cavity before cooking, but I never used to. Brook trout has an interesting, delicate flavor that I am happy to eat without any additional flavorings. When I cooked outdoors I would also grill some corn on the cob to go along with the fish. There are many ways to do this, but I used to shuck the corn completely, then wrap it in foil smeared with butter.

Apr 282014
 

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The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Master’s Mate and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. Even today scholars still dispute the causes of the mutiny. Some hold that it was Bligh’s exceptionally harsh treatment of the men that led to the revolt, while others suggest that the men were unable to adjust to the rigors of naval life following their idyllic five-month stint on Tahiti. I have come to the conclusion after reading many of the documents of the era, and following Bligh’s subsequent career, that it was a combination of the two. Bligh was a petty, cruel man, but there were many like him in the Royal Navy who did not have to deal with mutiny. The Bounty crew might have lived with his tyranny were it not for their sojourn on Tahiti which showed them the alternative to vile food, cramped shipboard conditions, rats, and the cat o’ nine tails. Nor should it be forgotten that Christian was a headstrong man with a talent for leadership. What is beyond dispute is that Bligh, despite his flaws was a superb seaman. When he was set adrift with eighteen loyal seamen in a23-foot (7 m) open launch, equipped only with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass, he navigated them on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi).

HMS Bounty began her career as the collier Bethia, a small vessel built in 1784 at the Blaydes shipyard in Hull. On 26 May 1787 she was bought by the Royal Navy for £2,600, refitted, and renamed Bounty. Bligh was appointed commanding lieutenant of Bounty on 16 August 1787, at the age of 32, after a career that included a tour as sailing master of James Cook’s HMS Resolution during Cook’s third and final voyage (1776–79).

The Royal Navy bought the ship for a single mission in support of an experiment: she was to travel to Tahiti, pick up breadfruit plants, and transport them to the West Indies, in the hope that they would grow well there and become a cheap source of food for slaves. The experiment, promoted through a prize offered by the Royal Society, was proposed by Sir Joseph Banks (Cook’s botanist), who recommended Bligh as commander, Banks at the time being the unofficial director of Kew Gardens.

In June 1787, Bounty was refitted at Deptford. The captain’s cabin was converted to house the potted breadfruit plants, and glazed windows were fitted to the upper deck, while a lead lining was installed on the deck to catch and re-use run-off to water the plants. Bligh was quartered in a small cramped cabin next to crew and officers.

HMS Bounty II

HMS Bounty II

On 23 December 1787, Bounty sailed from Spithead for Tahiti with a crew of 46 officers and men. For a full month, she attempted to round Cape Horn, but adverse weather blocked her. Bligh ordered her turned about, and proceeded east, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the width of the Indian Ocean. During the outward voyage, Bligh demoted the ship’s sailing master, John Fryer, replacing him with Fletcher Christian. This act seriously damaged the relationship between Bligh and Fryer, and Fryer would later claim Bligh’s act was entirely personal. Bounty reached Tahiti on 26 October 1788, after ten months at sea.

Bligh and his crew spent five months in Tahiti, then known as “Otaheite,” collecting and preparing a total of 1,015 breadfruit plants. This layover was unplanned, but was required to allow the plants to reach the point of development where they could be safely transported by ship. Bligh allowed the crew to live ashore and care for the potted breadfruit plants where they became socialized to the customs and culture of the Tahitians. Many of the seamen and some of the “young gentlemen” (boys of high birth destined as officers) had themselves tattooed in native fashion. Master’s Mate and Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian married Maimiti, a Tahitian woman. Other warrant officers and seamen of the Bounty were also said to have formed “connections” with native women.

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Bligh was not surprised by his crew’s reaction to the Tahitians. He later recorded his analysis:

The women are handsome … and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved – The chiefs have taken such a liking to our people that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desirable it is therefore now not to be wondered at … that a set of sailors led by officers and void of connections … should be governed by such powerful inducement … to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest island in the world where they need not labour, and where the allurements of dissipation are more than equal to anything that can be conceived.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere, relations between Bligh and his men, and particularly between Bligh and Christian, deteriorated whilst in Tahiti. Christian was routinely humiliated by the captain—often in front of the crew and the native Tahitians—for real or imagined slackness, while severe punishments were handed out to men whose carelessness had led to the loss or theft of equipment. Floggings, rarely administered during the outward voyage, now became a common occurrence. As a consequence, crewmen Millward, Muspratt, and Churchill deserted the ship. They were quickly recaptured, and a search of their belongings revealed a list of names which included those of Christian and Peter Heywood. Bligh confronted the pair and accused them of complicity in the desertion plot, which they strenuously denied. Without further corroboration, Bligh could not act against them.

As the date for departure grew closer, Bligh’s outbursts against his officers became more frequent. One witness reported: “Whatever fault was found, Mr. Christian was sure to bear the brunt.” Tensions rose among the men, who faced the prospect of a long and dangerous voyage that would take them through the uncharted Endeavour Strait, followed by many months of hard sailing. But Bligh was impatient to be away. On 5 April, Bounty finally weighed anchor and made for the open sea with its breadfruit cargo.

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The mutiny occurred on 28 April 1789, 23 days out and 1,300 miles west of Tahiti. Fletcher Christian had that morning contemplated making a raft and deserting the ship by paddling around 30 nautical miles (56 km/35 mi) to the nearby island of Tofua. Instead he and several of his followers entered Bligh’s cabin, which he always left unlocked. They awakened Bligh and pushed him on deck wearing only his nightshirt, where he was guarded by Christian holding a bayonet. When Bligh entreated Christian to be reasonable, Christian would only reply, “I am in hell, I am in hell!” Despite strong words and threats on both sides, the ship was taken bloodlessly and apparently without struggle by any of the loyalists except Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined the mutiny, two were passive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship’s master, two midshipmen, the surgeon’s mate, and the ship’s clerk into Bounty’s launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard, as they knew that those who remained on board would be considered de jure mutineers under the Articles of War, and, thus, could be hanged.

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In all, 18 of the loyal crew were in the launch with Bligh; 4 other loyalists were forced to stay with the 18 mutineers and 2 passive crew. Bligh and his crew headed for Tofua (in a bay that they subsequently called “Murderers’ Cove”) to augment their meager provisions. The only casualty during this voyage was a crewman, John Norton, who was stoned to death by some locals of Tofua. Bligh then navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor. Equipped with a quadrant and a pocket watch and with no charts or compass, he recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,701 km; 4,164 mi). He was chased by locals in what is now known as Bligh Water in Fiji, and passed through the Torres Strait along the way, landing in Kupang, Timor, on 14 June. Shortly after the launch reached Timor, the cook and botanist died. Three other crewmen died in the coming months.

Bligh returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after leaving England. Meanwhile, the mutineers sailed for the island of Tubuai, where they tried to settle. After three months of being attacked by the island’s locals they returned to Tahiti. Twelve of the mutineers and the four loyalists who had been unable to accompany Bligh remained there, taking their chances that the Royal Navy would not find them and bring them to justice. Two of the mutineers died in Tahiti between 1789 and 1790. Matthew Thompson shot Charles Churchill and was subsequently stoned to death by Churchill’s Tahitian family in an act of vendetta.

HMS Pandora, under the command of Captain Edward Edwards, was dispatched on 7 November 1790 to search for Bounty and the mutineers. Pandora carried twice the normal number of master’s mates, petty officers, and midshipmen, as it was expected that the extras would man Bounty when she was recovered from the mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from Bounty came on board Pandora soon after her arrival, and ten more were arrested within a few weeks. These fourteen, mutineers and loyal crew alike, were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck, which they derisively called “Pandora’s Box.” On 8 May 1791, Pandora left Tahiti, spending about three months visiting islands to the west of Tahiti in search of Bounty and the remaining mutineers, without finding anything except flotsam (including some spars and a yard on Palmerston Island). Heading west through the Torres Strait, Pandora ran aground on a reef (part of the Great Barrier Reef) on 29 August 1791. The ship sank the next morning, and 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners (Skinner, Sumner, Stewart, and Hillbrandt) were lost. The remaining 89 of the ship’s company and ten prisoners (released from their cell at the last moment by William Moulter, a boatswain’s mate on the Pandora) assembled in four small launches, and sailed for Timor, in a voyage similar to that of Bligh. They arrived at Timor on 16 September 1791.

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After being repatriated to Britain, the ten surviving prisoners were tried by a naval court. During the trial, great importance was attached to which men had been seen to be holding weapons during the critical moments of the mutiny, since under the Articles of War, failure to act when able to prevent a mutiny was considered no different from being an active mutineer. In the judgment delivered on 18 September 1792, four men whom Bligh had designated as innocent were acquitted. Two were found guilty, but pardoned; one of these was Peter Heywood, who later rose to the rank of captain himself; the second was James Morrison, who also continued his naval career and died at sea. Another was reprieved due to a legal technicality and later also received a pardon. The other three men were convicted, and hanged aboard HMS Brunswick on 29 October 1792. In other trials, both Bligh and Edwards were court-martialed for the loss of their ships (an automatic proceeding under British naval law, and not indicative of any particular suspicion of guilt). Both were acquitted.

Bligh resumed his naval career and went on to attain the rank of Vice Admiral. His career was marked by another insurrection. In 1808, while Bligh was Governor of New South Wales, troops of New South Wales arrested him in an incident known as the Rum Rebellion. This insurrection confirms many scholars’ belief that, in an era when tyrannical and cruel leaders were common and harsh punishments were normal, Bligh was a terrible commander.

Immediately after setting sixteen men ashore in Tahiti in September 1789, Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Tahitian men, and 18 women, one with a baby, set sail in the Bounty hoping to elude the Royal Navy. According to a journal kept by Edward Young, one of the mutineers, all but three of the Tahitian women had been kidnapped when Christian set sail without warning them. Bounty passed through the Fiji and Cook Islands, but feared that they would be found there. Continuing their quest for a safe haven, on 15 January 1790, they rediscovered Pitcairn Island, which had been misplaced on the Royal Navy’s charts. After the decision was made to settle on Pitcairn, livestock and other provisions were removed from Bounty. To prevent the ship’s detection, and anyone’s possible escape, the ship was burned on 23 January 1790 in what is now called Bounty Bay. Some of  the ship’s remains, such as her ballast stones, are still partially visible in its waters. Her rudder is displayed in the Fiji Museum in Suva. An anchor of Bounty was recovered by Luis Marden in Bounty Bay in 1957. The map below shows the voyage of the Bounty under Bligh (in red), the voyage under Christian (in yellow), and Bligh’s course by launch to Timor (in green).

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The Pitcairn Island community began life with bright prospects. There was ample food, water, and land for everyone, and the climate was mild. Although many of the Polynesians were homesick, and the Britons knew they were marooned on Pitcairn forever, they settled into life on Pitcairn fairly quickly. A number of children were born. At the time the community on Pitcairn was first visited by outsiders, John Adams was the sole surviving mutineer.

Little is agreed upon regarding Fletcher Christian’s role once the mutineers were established on Pitcairn Island. Adams claimed “Christian was always cheerful” but also claimed Christian would “retreat and brood [in a cave, and] had by many acts of cruelty and inhumanity, brought on himself the hatred and detestation of his companions.” Adams variously claimed that Christian had been killed “in a single massacre that occurred on the island about four years after arrival” and that Christian had committed suicide. Adams at another point claimed the “mutineers had divided into parties, seeking every opportunity on both sides to put each other to death.” While the details were inconsistent, Adams usually agreed with the journal of Young that Christian died as the result of a massacre: “The massacre … had taken place in several waves of violence, and principally arose from the fact that the Englishmen had come to regard their [Tahitian] friends as slaves.” The women, “passed around from one ‘husband’ to the other, as men died and the balance of power shifted,” eventually rebelled as well. Their descendents still live on Pitcairn, but some resettled to Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia in 1856 when Pitcairn became too small for the growing population.

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What else could I recommend but breadfruit to commemorate this day? It is not easy to find fresh, but can be bought, in season, in Caribbean markets in Europe and North America. There are also websites that offer it frozen, such as http://www.sams24-7.com/foods/BREADFRUIT-FROZEN-12-OZ.aspx I did locate one site that offered fresh breadfruit, but it turned out to be a commercial site and I would have had to order several tons. I’ll admit it was cheap!

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There are many ways to cook breadfruit. In Sri Lanka, it is either cooked as a curry using coconut milk and spices, or plain boiled and served with a sambal of shaved coconut and hot peppers. Fritters of breadfruit are also a local delicacy of coastal Karnataka. In Seychelles, it was traditionally eaten as a substitute for rice, as an accompaniment to the main dish. It would either be boiled (friyapen bwi) or grilled (friyapen griye), where it would be put whole in the wood fire used for cooking the main meal. It is also eaten as a dessert, called ladob friyapen, where it is boiled in coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. It is often said in Seychelles, that travelers who visit Seychelles will always come back if they eat breadfruit cooked in Seychelles.

In Puerto Rico, it is traditionally eaten boiled with bacalao (salted codfish). It is also used to make rellenos de pana (mashed breadfruit filled with seasoned meat), mofongo, tostones de pana (double fried breadfruit), and even lasagna de pana (cooked mashed breadfruit layered with meat and topped with cheese). There is also a popular dessert made with sweet ripe breadfruit: flan de pana (breadfruit custard/flan).

If you are curious, visit this site: http://www.ntbg.org/breadfruit/ It will tell you all that you need to know about breadfruit including a host of recipes, new and old.  Pretty much any recipe for potatoes or sweet potatoes can be adapted for breadfruit.  It is usually sold unripe or semi-ripe in markets outside the tropics, which must be cooked. Fully ripe breadfruit can be eaten raw.  It has a taste reminiscent of freshly baked bread, hence the name.

Jun 072013
 
Paul Gauguin in 1891

Paul Gauguin in 1891

Woher_kommen_wir_Wer_sind_wir_Wohin_gehen_wir
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris on this date in 1848, to journalist Clovis Gauguin and Alina Maria Chazal, daughter of the proto-socialist leader and feminist Flora Tristan, whose father was part of an influential Peruvian family. In 1850 the family left Paris for Peru, but Clovis died on the voyage, leaving eighteen-month-old Paul, his mother, and sister, to fend for themselves. They lived for four years in Lima with Paul’s uncle and his family. The imagery of Peru would later influence Gauguin in his art. It was in Lima that Gauguin encountered his first art. His mother admired Pre-Columbian pottery, collecting Inca pots that were at the time dismissed as barbaric by artists. Such memories later triggered an interest in Primitivism in his art.

At the age of seven, Gauguin and his family returned to France, moving to Orléans to live with his grandfather. The Gauguins came originally from the area and were market gardeners and greengrocers: gauguin means ‘walnut-grower.’ His father had broken with family tradition to become a journalist in Paris. Although Gauguin learnt French his preferred language remained the Peruvian dialect of Spanish all of his life.  Gauguin apparently excelled in school, but hated the boarding school he was sent to, and so left at age seventeen. He worked as a pilot’s assistant for three years in the merchant marine, and then served in the French navy for two. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he secured a job as a stockbroker. He became a successful Parisian businessman and remained one for eleven years. At this time he began painting, being inspired by his many friends and acquaintances who were painters, most notably Camille Pissarro, who was also his teacher.

In 1873, he married a Danish woman, Mette-Sophie Gad and they had five children.  In 1884 the family moved to Copenhagen where Gauguin tried his hand as a tarpaulin salesman.  Given that he could not speak Danish and there was not a huge market for French tarpaulins in Denmark, his endeavors failed, and his wife became the breadwinner whilst he took up painting full time. In 1885 he left the family (on his family’s insistence), and moved back to Paris.   In 1887 he sailed for Panama where he worked as a laborer on the canal before being laid off after only 15 days.  From there he moved to Martinique where he painted tropical scenes he hoped would sell in Paris (they did not).

In 1888 he was back in France where he spent a famously tormented three months with Vincent van Gogh (kudos to anyone who can pronounce his last name correctly — a source of constant irritation to Vincent). Both shared bouts of depression, suicidal tendencies, and an inability to sell their paintings.  It was in December of that year that van Gogh, during an illness, threatened Gauguin with a razor and then fled to a brothel where he cut the lower lobe of his ear off and gave it to a prostitute for safe keeping wrapped in his handkerchief (there are multiple versions of this story). Hint: if you are depressed, broke, and suicidal, making art that no one understands, try not to hang out with like people. Gauguin took the hint and left soon after.

In 1891, Gauguin sailed to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and “everything that is artificial and conventional.” He wrote a book there titled Noa Noa describing his experiences in Tahiti (although some modern critics believe it was largely fantasy).  He returned to France in 1893, but then left for Polynesia again in 1895, dying on Atuona in the Marquesas Islands in 1903 at age 54 of the combined effects of alcoholism, morphine use, and syphilis. No one is really sure how many children he left behind in Polynesia.

In the popular mind Gauguin is perpetually associated with his paintings of Tahitian women, but he experimented with many styles such as Cloisonnism, Primitivism, and Synthetism, influencing a generation of Post-Impressionists to come.  Most of his paintings are in museums, so one rarely comes up for sale. The last auction at which one of his paintings came on the block had a pre-sale estimate of $15.6 million, but ended up being sold privately.  It always irks me more than a little that he (and his erstwhile friend van Gogh) died in poverty, whilst now the über-rich battle over the spoils.

Today’s recipe combines elements from two aspects of Gauguin’s life: Peru and Tahiti.  It is a ceviche given a Tahitian twist. Ceviche is a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, now popular throughout Latin America and Polynesia, whose origin point is disputed.  However, it most likely originated in Peru where nowadays the varieties are seemingly endless.  I was once in a restaurant in Cusco with 58 versions on the menu.  This dish gets its Tahitian twist from the coconut milk in the marinade, and also from the fact that it is marinated very briefly so that the fish does not have a chance to “cook” in the citrus juice. Make sure the ingredients are well chilled before assembling the dish.

E’ia Ota (Tahitian Ceviche)

Ingredients

1 ½ lb (.7 kilos) sashimi quality tuna or firm white fish cut in ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes.
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into ½ in (1.25 cm) cubes
1 tomato, seeded and diced
3 scallions, chopped (plus 1 for garnish)
½ cup (118 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice strained of pulp
¼ cup (59 ml) coconut milk
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Toss together in a non-reactive bowl the fish, cucumber, tomato, scallions, lime juice, and coconut milk with a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Drain off the excess fluid.  This can be served in small glasses with the ceviche. In Peru it is known as leche de tigre.

Serve in chilled bowls or large shells garnished with scallion.

Serves 4 to 6