May 052017
 

On this date in 1809, Mary Dixon Kies (1752 – 1837) was granted a patent for a new technique of weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats, signed by President James Madison. Most historians say that she was the first American woman to receive a patent, however others state that Hannah Slater was the first to file for a patent as early as 1793. Slater supposedly invented a method of producing cotton sewing thread. Disentangling the puzzle is impossible at this point because the US Patent Office was consumed by fire in 1836 destroying all the relevant documents.

Mary’s father, John Dixon, was a farmer born in 1679 in Ireland. Her mother, Janet Kennedy, was John Dixon’s third wife. Mary Dixon was born in Killingly, Connecticut on March 21, 1752. She married Isaac Pike I, and in 1770 they had a son, Isaac Pike II. After his death she married John Kies (1750–1813) who died on August 18, 1813 at age 63. She then lived with her second son, Daniel Kies, in Brooklyn, New York, until her death at age 85 in 1837.

Because of the Napoleonic Wars resulting in the constant threats on US merchant ships, the United States placed an embargo in 1807 on all trade with France and Great Britain, creating a shortage of all kinds of goods imported from Europe including millinery. The straw-weaving industry filled the gap. There were over $500,000 ($9 million in today’s money) worth of straw bonnets produced in Massachusetts alone in 1810.

Mary Kies was not the first woman in the US to innovate in hat-making. In 1798, New Englander Betsy Metcalf invented a method of braiding straw. Her method became very popular, and she employed many women and girls to make her hats. The method created a new industry for girls and women because the straw bonnets could be made at home from local resources, meaning that the women and girls could do work for themselves. Betsy Metcalf can thus be credited with starting the US straw-hat industry. Under the Patent Act of 1790 she could have sought a patent, but like most women at the time, who could not legally hold property, she chose not to. Mary Kies, did apply for a patent, however it’s not clear that she profited from it. Her idea differed from Metcalf’s in that she used thread in the weaving process. First Lady, Dolly Madison, was so pleased by Kies’ innovation that she sent a personal letter applauding her.

It is claimed that Kies’ technique proved valuable in making cost-effective work bonnets, but I can’t find any solid evidence to support this claim. Rather it appears that she did not profit much from her invention and she died in 1837 dependent on her son.

I’ve mentioned Amelia Simmons’ cookbook, American Cookery before because it was the first cookbook written and published in the United States. Since it was published in Connecticut in 1798 is a fitting source for us. The whole first half of the book is taken up with a discourse on various ingredients: flesh, fish fowl, vegetables, fruits, herbs, you name it. The recipes are terse but reasonably easy to follow. This one for foot pie caught my attention because it seems so bizarre. It reminds us that in the days before refrigeration people were a bit cavalier with storing things.

Minced Pies. A Foot Pie.

Scald neets feet, and clean well, (grass fed are best) put them into a large vessel of cold water, which change daily during a week, then boil the feet till tender, and take away the bones, when cold, chop fine, to every four pound minced meat, add one pound of beef suet, and four pound apple raw, and a little salt, chop all together very fine, add one quart of wine, two pound of stoned raisins, one ounce of cinnamon, one ounce mace, and sweeten to your taste; make use of paste No. 3–bake three quarters of an hour.

Weeks after, when you have occasion to use them, carefully raise the top crust, and with a round edg’d spoon, collect the meat into a bason, which warm with additional wine and spices to the taste of your circle, while the crust is also warm’d like a hoe cake, put carefully together and serve up, by this means you can have hot pies through the winter, and enrich’d singly to your company.

I’m not thrilled with the “weeks after” bit. Is she serious? And . . . you can do this throughout the winter? I need a bit more context. What I think she is suggesting is something akin to mincemeat which will keep for months. That is because of the sugar content.

Neat’s foot is an old fashioned term for cow’s foot, which is hard to find. You can sometimes find neatsfoot oil which is used to preserve and waterproof leather shoes, similar to mink oil which I used to use on my hiking boots. Cowheel pie used to be a popular and cheap dish in Lancashire but I have not seen nor heard of it in decades. Cow’s foot, like pig’s trotter is fatty with little in the way of meat on it. Still, if you find some stew them up in a soup.

Apr 192017
 

Today marks the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the first engagements in the war for independence of the North American colonies of Great Britain. As ever, I’m not interested in hailing the battles per se, nor in offering detailed analysis of the battles.  There are plenty of other sources for that. I do want to point out 2 issues, however: one minor, one major.  First the minor one. July 4th 1776 is celebrated as Independence Day in the US, but celebrating independence on ONE DAY – especially that date – is beguiling in the extreme. The war for independence lasted from 1775 to 1783, and the fate of the colonies hung in the balance for most of that time. A simple declaration of independence was important politically, of course, but it did not do anything to further the actual cause of independence.  July 4th is a token and the year 1776 was no more, or less, important than any other year in the late 18th century for the United States. For me, 1791 is a far more important year in US history, which brings me to my major issue.

On 30th December 1791 George Washington informed Congress that Amendments 1 to 10 to the Constitution (of 12 proposed) had been ratified by the requisite number of states and were enshrined as the Bill of Rights. Of these 10 the 2nd is the one I want to focus on, and I do it on this date because it is pertinent to what happened at Lexington and Concord. The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy (present-day Arlington), and Cambridge, near Boston and marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen of its colonies on the mainland of British America.

In late 1774 the Suffolk Resolves were adopted to resist the enforcement of the alterations made to the Massachusetts colonial government by the British parliament following the Boston Tea Party. The colonial assembly responded by forming a Patriot provisional government known as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and calling for local militias to train for possible hostilities. The rebel government exercised effective control of the colony outside of British-controlled Boston. In response, the British government in February 1775 declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

About 700 British Army regulars in Boston, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were given secret orders to capture and destroy rebel military supplies reportedly stored by the Massachusetts militia at Concord. Through effective intelligence gathering, Patriot colonials had received word weeks before the expedition that their supplies might be at risk and had moved most of them to other locations. They also received details about British plans on the night before the battle and were able to rapidly notify the area militias of the British expedition.

The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The militia were outnumbered and fell back, and the regulars proceeded on to Concord, where they broke apart into companies to search for the supplies. At the North Bridge in Concord, approximately 400 militiamen engaged 100 regulars from three companies of the King’s troops at about 11:00 am, resulting in casualties on both sides. The outnumbered regulars fell back from the bridge and rejoined the main body of British forces in Concord.

The British forces began their return march to Boston after completing their search for military supplies, and more militiamen continued to arrive from neighboring towns. Gunfire erupted again between the two sides and continued throughout the day as the regulars marched back towards Boston. Upon returning to Lexington, Lt. Col. Smith’s expedition was rescued by reinforcements under Brigadier General Hugh Percy, a future duke of Northumberland known as Earl Percy. The combined force, now of about 1,700 men, marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal and eventually reached the safety of Charlestown. The accumulated militias blockaded the narrow land accesses to Charlestown and Boston, starting the Siege of Boston. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his “Concord Hymn”, described the first shot fired by the Patriots at the North Bridge as the “shot heard round the world”.

The shot was, indeed, heard round the world. Peoples both in European colonies in the Americas, notably South America, and in European nations themselves, took heed and commenced armed struggles against their monarchic rulers that continued throughout the 19th century. The spirit of republicanism was born. Ironically, the British monarchy is one of the few to have survived into the 21st century but only in radically weakened form. The British monarch is now no more than a figurehead, although a vital one. The importance of Lexington and Concord for me lies in the fact that the North American rebellion was carried out by militias. This brings me back to the 2nd Amendment. Its full text reads:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

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Both the people of the US and the Supreme Court argue endlessly about the wording of the Amendment, but the intent seems quite clear to me. The initial clause about militias tends to be treated as a useless frill by those who want to walk around the streets armed to the teeth, but to my mind it is monumentally important. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were framed in the shadow of a war for independence that could not have begun without armed militias – as at Lexington and Concord. The 2nd Amendment was, in part, modelled on legislation enacted in Britain in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 emerged from a tempestuous period in English politics during which two issues were major sources of conflict: the authority of the King to govern without the consent of Parliament and the role of Catholics in a country that was becoming ever more Protestant. Ultimately, the Catholic James II was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution, and his successors, the Protestants William III and Mary II, accepted the conditions that were codified in the Bill. One of the issues the Bill resolved was the authority of the King to disarm its subjects, after James II had attempted to disarm many Protestants, and had argued with Parliament over his desire to maintain a standing (i.e. permanent) army. The bill states that it is acting to restore “ancient rights” trampled upon by James II, though some have argued that the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms

I know, I know, this all gets murky quickly and I am not a lawyer. The Supreme Court goes over this ground repeatedly. Many argue that the “ancient right” to possess a weapon stems from the Right to Life which allows people the right to self defense, that is, the right to own a weapon to defend yourself against mortal attack. I get it. But the text of the 2nd Amendment is crystal clear. The right to bear arms exists in the context of militias raised to defend against tyranny. Furthermore, the Amendment speaks of the right to BEAR arms, not to OWN them. This is not some semantic quibble; it’s a critical point. There’s a vast difference between being able to go to a well-stocked armory in the town to pick up a weapon to assist a militia and having a private arsenal in one’s home. I won’t belabor the point. It’s been made numerous times before to no avail.  I’ll pick up pots and pans instead.

Prior to the Revolutionary War cookbooks in the North American  colonies were reprints of British originals such as Hannah Glasse’s  The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747, and reprinted numerous times. American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons was the first truly North American cookbook, using local ingredients, such as cornmeal, and recommending pearl ash (potassium carbonate) as a leavening ingredient for the first time in print. It is an important window into distinctively American cooking in the late 18th century. Recipes like this one amuse me greatly:

To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.

Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.

Sure, I’ll just hop out to the barn and milk Betsy into my cooking pot. Or . . . how about the quantities for puff pastry number 2?

Puff Pastes for Tarts.

No. 1. Rub one pound of butter into one pound of flour, whip 2 whites and add with cold water and one yolk; make into paste, roll in in six or seven times one pound of butter, flowring it each roll. This is good for any small thing.

No. 2. Rub six pound of butter into fourteen pound of flour, eight eggs, add cold water, make a stiff paste.

That’ll do the trick when I’m feeding a militia. You can dip into the whole text here: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12815/pg12815-images.html It will give you plenty of ideas for a colonial dinner party. This recipe especially appeals to me because I think turkey and oysters go well together (even though I’m not a huge fan of cooked oysters):

To smother a Fowl in Oysters.

Fill the bird with dry Oysters, and sew up and boil in water just sufficient to cover the bird, salt and season to your taste—when done tender, put into a deep dish and pour over it a pint of stewed oysters, well buttered and peppered, garnish a turkey with sprigs of parsley or leaves of cellery: a fowl is best with a parsley sauce.

I can’t provide a modern recipe right now because I can’t get hold of either turkey or oysters at present. Oyster stuffing for roast turkey is still a staple in the rural South, but this recipe is more basic – just turkey and oysters. I’ll try it out when I get the chance.

Sep 052016
 

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Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States and Canada. Ostensibly it honors the North American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their countries. Nowadays, however, the trade union and labor movement ties are relatively week, but the day makes a three-day weekend which people use as a last hurrah of summer.

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Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists in the US (where I will focus) proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day.

In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed a Labor Day holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York. Some maintain that Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor put forward the first proposal in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labour festival held in Toronto in Canada. In 1887 Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday.

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Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike. The date of May 1 was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair on International Workers’ Day.

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The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for the workers and their friends and families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the Labor movement.

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Nowadays most of the overtly labor and union activities are muted in the US, and the day is seen primarily as a time for family gatherings. When I began working as a professor in New York in 1980 I was expected to work on Labor Day because students moved into the dormitories over the weekend and needed advising before commencing classes after Labor Day. This practice did not sit well with the faculty, especially in the Social Sciences – many of whom simply refused to work that day. The problem was solved about 10 years later when the university moved the start of term to the end of August, which allowed Labor Day to be a proper holiday for everyone.

Family barbecues and picnics are the order of the day. I always got a bit tired of big gatherings that tended to feature the same cast of characters year after year – hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and beans. People in the US have a bad habit of looking down their noses at UK cuisine whilst overlooking the numbingly bland and repetitive aspects of their own cooking. For me, Labor Day was an opportunity to build a big blaze in my fire pit and grill or roast whatever I felt like.

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Roasted corn on the cob was always a big family favorite to complement meats and other vegetables. If you want to be dead simple and lazy, leave the cobs unshucked, remove as much tassel as you can without breaking the husk, and whack the cobs on a grill over your fire until the husks are charred and the insides are steaming. It’s best to place the cobs over medium heat for this. When cooked just shuck and enjoy.

If you want to have a bit more finesse, and less mess, shuck the corn cobs and wrap them in heavy aluminum foil along with a knob of butter. Then grill them in the same manner. Either way, the cobs will char a little, adding to the flavor. Cooking times vary, but usually 25 minutes are sufficient if you have a steady fire going.  With a foil wrapping you can check regularly before serving by opening the foil just a crack. Make sure you rotate all the cobs periodically so that cooking is even.

Either way, serve the cobs with extra butter, and a salt shaker for those who want it.

Sep 032016
 

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The Treaty of Paris which finalized the peace between Great Britain and the 13 North American colonies that became the United States, was signed in Paris by representatives of King George III of Great Britain and representatives of the United States of America on this date in 1783. Britain acknowledged the right of the United States to be sovereign and independent. The treaty also set the boundaries between the British Empire and the new country, and also included details such as fishing rights and the restoration of property and prisoners of war. The Treaty took over a year to settle because, as always, the devil is in the details. France and Spain also had a large stake in the establishment of boundaries at the time.

Many things come to mind as I contemplate this treaty. First, this is not a date that means much any more in the US. Declaring independence on 4th July is a BIG DEAL – but WINNING independence has largely been forgotten except for a few vagrant (and mostly wrong) memories of Washington, Valley Forge, and “redcoats.” There were 7 years between declaring and winning independence. Even when the battles were over there was a lot to decide, and not a lot of agreement. Second, after signing the treaty both sides set about ignoring the details, particularly with regard to boundaries, one of the key issues in the War of 1812, which people in the US often see as a Second War of Independence, whereas people in Britain see it as an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, if they think about it at all.

Peace negotiations began in April 1782, and continued through the summer. Representing the United States were Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and John Adams. David Hartley and Richard Oswald represented Great Britain. The treaty was signed at the Hotel d’York (presently 56 Rue Jacob) in Paris on September 3, 1783, by Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Hartley. A contemporary artist attempted to record the events but the British representatives refused to sit, so the painting was left incomplete.

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The key episodes came in September, 1782, when the French Foreign Minister Vergennes proposed a solution that was strongly opposed by his ally the United States. France was exhausted by the war, and everyone wanted peace except Spain, which insisted on continuing the war until it could capture Gibraltar from the British. Vergennes came up with the deal that Spain would accept instead of Gibraltar. The United States would gain its independence but be confined to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. Britain would take the area north of the Ohio River. In the area south of that would be set up an independent Indian state under Spanish control. It would be an Indian buffer state.

The Americans realized that they could get a better deal directly from London. John Jay promptly told the British that he was willing to negotiate directly with them, cutting off France and Spain. The British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne agreed. He was in full charge of the British negotiations and he now saw a chance to split the United States away from France and make the new country a valuable economic partner. In the west the United States would gain all of the area east of the Mississippi River, north of Florida, and south of Canada. The northern boundary would be almost the same as today.The United States would gain fishing rights off Canadian coasts, and agreed to allow British merchants and Loyalists to try to recover their property. It was a highly favorable treaty for the United States, and deliberately so from the British point of view. Prime Minister Shelburne foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly growing United States.

Great Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain, and (provisionally) with the Netherlands. In the treaty with Spain, the territories of East and West Florida were ceded to Spain (without a clear northern boundary, resulting in a territorial dispute resolved by the Treaty of Madrid in 1795). Spain also received the island of Minorca. The Bahama Islands, Grenada, and Montserrat, captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain. The treaty with France was mostly about exchanges of captured territory (France’s only net gains were the island of Tobago, and Senegal in Africa), but also reinforced earlier treaties, guaranteeing fishing rights off Newfoundland. Dutch possessions in the East Indies, captured in 1781, were returned by Britain to the Netherlands in exchange for trading privileges in the Dutch East Indies, by a treaty which was not finalized until 1784.

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Historians have often commented that the treaty was very generous to the United States in terms of greatly enlarged boundaries. Historians such as Alvord, Harlow, and Ritcheson have emphasized that British generosity was based on a statesmanlike vision of close economic ties between Britain and the United States. The concession of the vast trans-Appalachian region was designed to facilitate the growth of the North American population and create lucrative markets for British merchants, without any military or administrative costs to Britain. The point was the United States would become a major trading partner. The French foreign minister, Vergennes, later put it, “The English buy peace rather than make it”. Vermont was included within the boundaries because the state of New York insisted that Vermont was a part of New York, although Vermont was then under a government that considered Vermont not to be a part of the United States.

Privileges that the North Americans had received from Britain automatically when they had colonial status (including protection from pirates in the Mediterranean Sea) were withdrawn. Individual states ignored federal recommendations, under Article 5, to restore confiscated Loyalist property, and also ignored Article 6 (e.g., by confiscating Loyalist property for “unpaid debts”). Some, notably Virginia, also defied Article 4 and maintained laws against payment of debts to British creditors. The British often ignored the provision of Article 7 about removal of slaves.

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The actual geography of North America turned out not to match the details used in the treaty. The Treaty specified a southern boundary for the United States, but the separate Anglo-Spanish agreement did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. While that West Florida Controversy continued, Spain used its new control of Florida to block US access to the Mississippi, in defiance of Article 8. The treaty stated that the boundary of the United States extended from the center of the Lake of the Woods (now partly in Minnesota, partly in Manitoba, and partly in Ontario) directly westward until it reached the Mississippi River. But in fact the Mississippi does not extend that far northward. The line going west from the Lake of the Woods never intersects the river.

In the Great Lakes region, Great Britain violated the treaty stipulation that they should relinquish control of forts in United States territory “with all convenient speed.” British troops remained stationed at a number of forts (Detroit, Lernoult, Michilimackinac, Niagara, Ontario, Oswegatchie, Presque Isle) for over a decade. The British also built an additional fort (Miami) during this time. They found justification for these actions in the unstable and extremely tense situation that existed in the area following the war, in the failure of the United States government to fulfill commitments made to compensate loyalists for their losses, and in the British need for time to liquidate various assets in the region. This matter was finally settled by the 1794 Jay Treaty.

The cuisine of the 13 colonies reflected the cuisines of their regions of origin. Colonization occurred in four waves:

Virginia. The first wave of English immigrants began arriving in North America, settling mainly around Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Maryland. The Virginian settlers were dominated by English noblemen with their servants (many were Cavaliers fleeing in the aftermath of the English Civil War 1642–51) and poor peasants from southern England. The society the Cavaliers brought with them was highly stratified and this was reflected in food and eating habits. The aristocrats that would be the basis for the First Families of Virginia were very fond of game and red meat. Roast beef was a particular favorite, and even when oysters and goose were available, wealthy colonists could complain about the absence of meat. Virginia was the only place in North America where haute cuisine of any kind was practiced before the 19th century.

New England. New England was first settled beginning in 1620, and it was dominated by East Anglian Calvinists, better known as the Puritans. The religious fundamentalism of the Puritans created a cuisine that was austere, disdainful of feasting and with few embellishments. Though New England had a great abundance of wildlife and seafood, traditional East Anglian fare was preferred, even if it had to be made with New World ingredients. Baked beans and pease porridge were everyday fare, particularly during the winter, and usually eaten with coarse, dark bread.

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Delaware Valley. The Quakers emigrated to the New World from the Northern English Midlands during the 17th century, and eventually settled primarily in the Delaware Valley. They were similar to the Puritans in the strictness that they applied to everyday life, and their food was plain and simple.

The most typical cooking method of the Quakers was boiling, a method brought from ancestral northern England. Boiled breakfast and dinner were standard fare, as well as “pop-robbins,” balls of batter made from flour and eggs boiled in milk. Boiled dumplings and puddings were so common in Quaker homes that they were referred to by outsiders as “Quakers’ food”. Travelers noted apple dumplings as an almost daily dish in the Delaware Valley and cook books specialized in puddings and dumplings. Food was mostly preserved through boiling, simmering or standing.

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A popular genre of dishes made from this favored method of food preparation was “cheese” (or “butter”), a generic term for dishes prepared by slow boiling or pressing. It could be made from ingredients as varying as apples (i.e., apple butter), plums and walnuts. Cream cheese had its origins in Quaker cooking, but was in colonial times not true cheese made with rennet or curds, but rather cream that was warmed gently and then allowed to stand between cloth until it became semi-solid.

Backcountry. The last major wave of British immigrants to the colonies took place from 1720–1775. About 250,000 people travelled across the Atlantic primarily to seek economic betterment and to escape hardships and famine. Most of these came from the borderlands of northern Britain and were of Scots-Irish or Scottish descent. Many were poor and therefore accustomed to hard times, setting them apart from the other major British immigrant groups. They settled in what would come to be known generally as the “Backcountry,” on the frontier and in the highlands in the north and south.

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The back country relied heavily on a diet based on porridge or mush made from soured milk or boiled grains, a diet that was despised in wealthier parts of the colonies as well as in Britain.  Oatmeal porridge was popular but eventually the oatmeal was replaced by corn, and became what is known in the South as grits. Cakes of unleavened dough baked on bake stones or circular griddles were common and went by names such as “clapbread,” “griddle cakes,” and “pancakes.” Rabbit, squirrel, and possum were common hunted meats.

The Revolutionary War disrupted the diet a little, although historians differ concerning the extent. For example, wool was in great need for uniforms, so slaughtering sheep became uncommon, thus pig rearing increased in popularity for meat over lamb and mutton. Imported foods from Britain were banned, and had been highly taxed anyway. Coffee replaced tea as a hot drink, and whisky replaced rum because it could be distilled from corn instead of from sugar which was imported from the British West Indies. Colonists preferred eating barley over brewing beer with it, and, in any case, making alcoholic cider is simpler than brewing beer.

What passes as “American” cuisine these days reflects these colonial realities. I’ll leave you to it, whether it be Boston baked beans, Philadelphia cream cheese, or grits.

Jun 192016
 

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Today is the third Sunday in June which is Father’s Day in a great many countries – but not all by any means. It is Father’s Day in the countries I am, or have been, most closely associated with, namely Britain, the U.S., Argentina, and China, so I’ll use it as my day’s theme. Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Father’s Day was celebrated in China on August 8. This was determined by the fact that the Eighth (ba) day of the Eighth (ba) month makes two “eight”s (八八, ba-ba), which sounds similar to the colloquial word for “daddy” (ba-ba,爸爸). It is still celebrated on this date in some areas.  Father’s Day in Italy is St Joseph’s Day (19 March).

I will add a caution. I tend to be a bit chary of celebratory days for things that I think should be normal, everyday things. I don’t like Valentine’s Day for that reason, for example. When I love another it is a permanent state, and I like to do “special” things all the time for that person, rather than on a particular day. Likewise “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. Not only is there no need to pick out a special day for this, but, in fact, having only one day in the year for such action is really counter to the whole spirit of the commandment. You should hold your parents in high esteem EVERY day.

I imagine that all these “special” days are promoted by greeting card manufacturers and the like to boost sales at slow times of the year. Valentine’s Day shifts people out of the doldrums of the post-Christmas blahs, and June is a slow month, so why not stick Father’s Day in there to liven it up? Maybe I sound cynical, but I am sure I am right. All that having been said, let me honor my own father today after a little discussion of the history of the celebration.

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After Anna Jarvis’ successful promotion of Mother’s Day in Grafton, West Virginia, the first observance of a “Father’s Day” in the United States was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father when, on December 1907, the Monongah Mining Disaster in nearby Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around 1,000 fatherless children. It has been described as the worst mining disaster in US history. Clayton suggested that her pastor, Robert Thomas Webb, honor all those fathers.

Clayton’s event did not have repercussions outside of Fairmont for several reasons, among them: the city was overwhelmed by other events, the celebration was never promoted outside of the town itself and no proclamation was made in the city council. Also two events overshadowed this event: the celebration of Independence Day July 4, 1908, with 12,000 attendants and several shows including a hot air balloon event, which took over the headlines in the following days, plus the death of a 16-year-old girl on July 4. The local church and council were overwhelmed and they did not even think of promoting the event, and it was not celebrated again for many years. The original sermon was not reproduced in the press and it was lost. Also, Clayton was a rather quiet person, who never promoted the event or even talked to other people about it.

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In 1910, a Father’s Day celebration was held on 19 June in Spokane, Washington, at the YMCA by Sonora Smart Dodd, who was born in Arkansas. Her father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who had raised his six children in Spokane. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis’ Mother’s Day in 1909 at Central Methodist Episcopal Church, she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. Although she initially suggested June 5, her father’s birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June. Several local clergymen accepted the idea, and on June 19, 1910, the first Father’s Day, “sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city.”

It took a long time for Father’s Day to be recognized officially in the US, and was not signed into law as a national holiday until 1972. People – rightly – feared that it would be commercialized and resisted movements in this direction. Oh well, it happened anyway. Stores throughout the US and Britain put out an unceasing barrage of advertisements for stuff to give dad. Very annoying.

My father died 35 years ago, so even if I were tempted to, I can’t run out and buy him a new power saw or tool belt. He wouldn’t have wanted them anyway. Maybe he would have been touched, though, if I had paid tribute to him in some way. In the family he was known as papa (and still is). This is the Spanish version of “dad” but I am not sure if it originated in Argentina, where one of my sisters and I were born, or in some other way.

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This is what I wrote a few years ago:

Here’s my papa some time in the 1950’s — my sisters could probably narrow it down more. He was the man responsible for the fact that I was born in Argentina and had lived on 3 continents by the age of six. He was the man who showed me what fun it was to cook. He was the man who passed on to me the joy of knowledge. He showed me that it was all right for men to cry. He was the man who loved me. When I was an infant and he took my hand for safety on the street I was nine feet tall. He loved to play with me on his knees when I was a little boy — a happy memory. I never met his father but it was clear from the stories he told me that he idolized him. Fathers and sons are a powerful force of nature. Get between them only if you do not value your life. We are permitted to fight with one another — NO ONE else is.

Papa and I had our differences, of course, but I’m certainly not going to wash our dirty linens in public, and I take very seriously the Roman adage, de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est.  I’ll be his Mark Anthony. He was born in Glasgow, and his father was a horse breeder and mortician. On my papa’s birth certificate his father is listed as an ambulance driver because that was his service in World War I when my papa was born. Otherwise he kept a stable of pure-black horses and conducted funerals using a horse-drawn hearse. Papa always spoke admiringly of him.

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Papa left Glasgow at the age of 18 and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, training at the Royal Naval College. Before World War II he served on several ships in the Atlantic and Pacific, visiting Argentina, India, Australia, China, and Japan, among other places, at a time when most Brits barely left their home towns. In this way he developed a zest for world travel, and began picking up languages. I don’t know the full extent of his linguistic ability, but I spent many hours with him as a boy while he happily conversed with people in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Danish. He held an honors degree from London University in Spanish, and most of his personal library – which we dragged around the world – was books in Spanish.

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When World War II began he spent most of his time on ships in the Atlantic and was part of the evacuation forces at Dunkirk. In 1944 he was crippled in action and repatriated to a hospital in Sussex where he met my mother. Several months after he was taken to England, his ship was torpedoed with enormous loss of life. After recuperation he served in the Merchant Navy and retired after the war. Then the traveling began in earnest – Argentina, England, Australia, then back to England, and finally back to Scotland. I see in him a mirror of my own life. Though born in Scotland, he lived most of his life in other countries. Yet he was always a Scot at heart, and returned in later life because Scotland was his home. I was born in Buenos Aires but, courtesy of papa (and then on my own), journeyed the world until at age 59 I returned to Argentina and immediately knew that I was home.

Fatherhood, in turn, changed me beyond recognition. I used to say when my son was a baby — “you know you are a father when your son throws up on your best tailored suit, and all you care about is whether he is all right.” This is not the place to tout my own credentials as a father, but I will say that by becoming a father I became aware of what my papa had done for me.

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My mother was the main family cook, with my elder sister pitching in. But on Saturdays my papa was the lunch cook. He also cooked on special occasions sometimes. His normal lunch dishes were curry and spaghetti. It’s important to realize that in the 1950s, when he began cooking for the family, Indian and Italian food were virtually unknown in England and Australia. Best you might do is get tinned, processed spaghetti (to warm up and eat on toast). Yet in that miasma of ignorance papa created amazing international cuisine. I have a vivid memory of him making ravioli from scratch once. The filling was brains, spinach, and cheese, and he hand made the pasta on the kitchen table.  He made the pasta by building a hollow mound of flour, cracking eggs into the middle, and working it all together with his hands, then rolling it into flat sheets with a rolling pin. Making the ravioli was genius. Papa laid one sheet of pasta on the table, dabbed the filling around and then laid a second sheet of pasta on top. We had a wooden utensil for shaping the ravioli, a little like the one in the photo, but larger and without the serrated edges. When papa placed it over the pasta it separated the sheet into square pillows which he then cut out with a pastry wheel.

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My legacy from my papa in cooking was at least two-fold. First, he taught me that food was much more than roast lamb and boiled cabbage. English cooking has many merits, as I have been at pains to point out over the past 3 years, but papa taught me how much more there was to world cuisine by making it right in our own kitchen. Second, I grew up watching him cook exotic stuff, but just figured it was regular. So, when it came my turn to make pasta I was not remotely daunted; I figured it was normal. I should say too that both my sisters are superb cooks.

Spaghetti and tuco was a perennial Saturday favorite. I was a mature teen before I realized that “tuco” was not the regular Italian word for a tomato-based pasta sauce. Argentinos call that sauce tuco. In our kitchen my papa used several Argentine-Spanish words that I just assumed were the regular words for things. A big stock pot was an olla for example (pronounced /ozha/). How was I to know that no one else outside of Argentina called it that? Somewhere knocking around the house was a gaucho-style mate and bombilla set that I can still smell – the smell of Argentina. Late night if papa were hungry he’d break out the skillet and make a classic Argentine tortilla. That’s how I learned to make them. Argentine Milanesa was a favorite dinner.

Argentine tuco is, of course, derived from Italian pasta sauces. Papa’s tuco was close to a Bolognese sauce. You can find them meatless in some households in Buenos Aires but usually they contain a lot of ground beef. Papa, like me, was not wedded to recipes, and in any case it’s been 55 years since I last tasted his offering. This is my recipe based on what I remember. The main point is that you are aiming for a sauce in which the meat is prominent and the consistency is thick. Oregano is commonly available in Buenos Aires, but my papa did not use it for tuco, and it is not a usual ingredient for the sauce in Argentina. Garlic and onion are the prime flavorings. Papa normally used lard for frying, but once he used olive oil and was delighted with it. He said that the aroma of it heating reminded him of olive groves in Italy. For health and taste I’d go with olive oil. Argentinos use beef but my papa used lamb or beef depending on what was available. Lamb was more usual in Australia.

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Tuco

Ingredients

500 g ground beef
500 g tinned tomatoes, chopped with juice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
vegetable oil
1 cup beef stock
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add the beef and brown it gently. You will probably need a wooden spoon to break it up and separate it, so that you do not have any clumps. The ground beef pieces should all be separate.

Add the tomatoes with their juice, the tomato paste, the garlic, and the beef stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Simmer gently, uncovered, over low heat for about an hour. You want the sauce to be very thick and meaty.

Serve over cooked spaghetti.