Apr 242017
 

Today is the eve of the feast of St Mark. You’ll find my post on the feast day here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-mark/  The eve of church feasts were often fasting days (esp. Christmas Eve and Easter Eve), and in the case of many saints’ days the eve was a time of prognostication. The eve of St Agnes, for example, was the time for girls to peek into the future to see who their husbands would be (immortalized by John Keats http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-agnes/ ), but the eve of St Mark in England was much darker. I’ll get into that in a second. Let me take a moment beforehand to talk about the word “eve” because people get confused by it sometimes.

The word “eve” is a shortened form of “even” in Middle English, and in the early 13th century it was more or less synonymous with the modern “evening” (which is actually an older word, going back to Old English, and with similar etymology).  By the late 13th century “eve” and “evening” had generally parted ways, with “evening” mostly having the modern meaning, and “eve” being reserved for “the day before” (and also, “on the brink of”). The thing is that the eve of a feast is the whole day before, not just the evening before. Saying something like, “Christmas Eve day” is redundant. Nevertheless it is the actual evening of the eve of a feast that tends to be important, especially for prognostication.

Various sources will tell you that it was the custom in villages in England, from the 17th century to the late 19th century, to sit in the church porch on St. Mark’s Eve. According these sources you had to keep silent between the bell tolling at 11.00 p.m. until the bell struck 1.00 a.m. (some sources say that you had to do this 3 years in a row). The belief was that the ghosts of those to die in the parish in the coming year would be seen passing into the church. I’m always skeptical concerning how widespread such “traditional” customs were because most of them are reported by 19th century antiquaries who were not very careful about their source material, and often made wild, unsupported generalizations. The latter habit is, unfortunately, still with us, and many social historians fall prey to it. There are scattered reports of the custom throughout England, but most come from northern and western counties (notably Yorkshire). Typical 19th century accounts go into detail about supposedly true tales of people seeing ghosts following this custom, and then, lo and behold, the people seen as ghosts entering the church died in the year to come. You don’t get a lot of stories of people keeping vigil and NOTHING HAPPENED.

Some accounts of the custom state that the watchers must be fasting, or must circle the church before taking up position. The ghosts of those who were to die soon would be the first observed, while those who would almost see out the year would not be witnessed until almost 1.00 a.m. Other variations of the superstition say that the watchers would see headless or rotting corpses, or coffins approaching.

Another, much less documented, tradition holds that a young woman can see the face of her future husband appear on her smock by holding it before the fire on St Mark’s Eve.

In February 1819 Keats began writing “The Eve of St Mark.” 1819 was quite a year for Keats. He wrote his 6 most famous odes that year, including my personal favorite: “To Autumn.” It was also the year that he wrote “The Eve of St Agnes.” In many ways 1819 was the year when Keats sealed his fame in perpetuity; he had really only been a recognized poet for a couple of years at that point. He spent the year with a deep sense of foreboding that he would die within 3 years, which proved to be entirely accurate. He died of tuberculosis in Rome in February 1821 at the age of 25. “The Eve of St Mark” is one of his lesser known poems, mostly because he never finished it. It seems to have been inspired by the idea of sitting up late in the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve although this custom is not specifically referred to in the poem. Instead it tells of a woman, Bertha, sitting up late, reading about St Mark. It is filled with gloomy images but because it is not finished, there’s really no sense of where he was going with it. I’ve appended the existing fragment after today’s recipe.

The Eve of St Mark is also a 1942 play by Maxwell Anderson set during World War II. It later became a 1944 film by 20th Century Fox that featured some of the same actors who reprised their stage roles in the film. I’m not entirely sure what relationship there is between the title and the play’s plot. There is a strong mystical element of love and death that conjures up the old customs, and Keats’ imagery.

The central character of the play/movie is Quizz West who joins the United States Army in late 1940 before the US enters the war. Prior to being shipped out first to San Francisco, then the Philippines, Quizz and his hometown girlfriend Janet discuss their future plans. When the US enters the war, Quizz and his friends are in the Philippines where they man a coastal artillery gun against overwhelming odds. When things become desperate Quizz communicates with his mother and Janet through dreams, where he asks them whether he and his friends should stay with their gun to sacrifice themselves by covering the withdrawing US troops or leave by boat for a chance of survival. The movie version is here. I won’t spoil it for you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtBZq9hvQ-Y

It’s a real period piece, although, unlike many contemporary war movies it does not glorify war.  You’ll also recognize Vincent Price and Michael O’Shea if your hair is grey enough.

Given that St Mark’s Eve churchyard customs are best attested in Yorkshire, a Yorkshire recipe is in order. Of course you can make Yorkshire pudding, or chomp down on some Wensleydale cheese, but you might find Yorkshire curd tart a bit more enjoyable and unusual. The rosewater is what makes it. You might be able to buy curds for the tart, but making them yourself is not a problem. Make them the night before.

Put 2½ pints/ 1.2L of whole milk in a large non-reactive saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until it almost comes to a boil. Add the juice of one lemon, and gently stir over very low heat.  The curds will start to form. Do not stir too quickly or you will break up the curds. When the curds and whey are visibly distinct, remove from the heat and let the curds cool in the whey. Place the cooled curds and whey in a large sieve lined with muslin or a double layer of cheese cloth over a bowl, and let the curds drain overnight. Save the whey for making scones.

If you are lazy, like me, you can use a prepared tart shell. For some reason I can make pasta from scratch with no effort, but balk at making pastry. It’s your St Mark’s Eve mystery to figure out why. The pastry recipe I give here is a traditional one for the tart.

 

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ingredients

Pastry

4½ oz/125 gm plain flour
½ oz/12 gm finely ground almonds
4½ oz/125 gm butter
1½ oz/42 gm powdered sugar
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk

Filling

6 oz/150 gm curd
1 egg
2 oz/62 gm  caster sugar
1 oz/30 gm currants
½ tbsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
1 tbsp  rosewater
½ oz/12g melted butter

Instructions

First make the pastry. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl or a food processor, and add the ground almonds.  Add the butter and either pulse it in the processor to make a mixture resembling coarse sand, or rub in the butter with your fingertips.  Sift in the icing sugar, add grated lemon rind and mix everything together. Dump out on to a rolling board.  Punch down the center of the flour mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and pour them into the center of the dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients gently into the wet ones with your hands until the mass just comes together. Knead gently to make a smooth dough.  Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly butter a 9”/22cm shallow tart tin.  Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and line the tin with it.  Prick the base with a fork several times and rest in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 395˚F/200˚C.  Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and paper, turn down the oven to 355˚F/180˚C (160˚C fan oven) and return the tart to the oven for another 4-5 minutes to fully cook the base.

To make the filling, mix the curd with the currants, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon rind and rosewater.  Beat the egg with the sugar then add to the curd mixture along with the cooled melted butter.  Pour into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the filling set.

The Eve of St. Mark

John Keats

Upon a sabbath day it fell,
Twice holy was the sabbath bell
That call’d the folk to evening prayer—
The City streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains
And on the western window panes
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatur’d green vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with springtide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills
And daisies on the aguish hills—

Twice holy was the sabbath bell:
The silent Streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies
Warm from their fire-side orat’ries
And moving with demurest air
To even song and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch and entry low
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet
While play’d the organ loud and sweet—

The Bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun
And Bertha had not yet half done:
A curious volume patch’d and torn,
That all day long from earliest morn
Had taken captive her two eyes
Among its golden broideries—
Perplex’d her with a thousand things—
The Stars of heaven and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze—
Azure saints in silver rays,
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in heaven—
The winged Lion of St. Mark
And the covenantal Ark
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden Mice.

 Bertha was a maiden fair
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see
Sidelong its rich antiquity—
Far as the Bishop’s garden wall
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall
Full-leav’d the forest had outstript—
By no sharp north wind ever nipt
So shelter’d by the mighty pile—
Bertha arose and read awhile
With forehead ‘gainst the window-pane—
Again she tried and then again
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the Legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And daz’d with saintly imageries.

All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still footfall
Of one returning townwards late—
Past the echoing minster gate—
The clamorous daws that all the day
Above tree tops and towers play
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry nest
Where asleep they fall betimes
To musick of the drowsy chimes,
All was silent—all was gloom
Abroad and in the homely room—
Down she sat, poor cheated soul
And struck a Lamp from the dismal coal,
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant book full against the glare.
Her shadow in uneasy guise
hover’d about a giant size
On ceilingbeam and old oak chair,
The Parrot’s cage and panel square
And the warm angled winter screen
On which were many monsters seen
Call’d Doves of Siam, Lima Mice
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender av’davat
And silken-furr’d angora cat—
Untir’d she read; her shadow still
Glower’d about as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back—
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untir’d she read the Legend page
Of holy Mark from youth to age,
On Land, on Seas, in pagan-chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains—
Sometimes the learned Eremite
With golden star, or dagger bright
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crowquill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell’d out from time to time:
—’Als writith he of swevenis
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke hem bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde;
And how a litling child mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (god her blesse)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce.
Of Goddis love and Sathan’s force
He writith; and thinges many mo:
Of swiche thinges I may not shew;.
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie;
And chieftie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe.’

At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent Martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine
At Venice—

 

 

Apr 142016
 

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Today there are many minor celebrations worldwide. I will talk about three of them together – under the rubric Cuckoo Day – because they are minimally related. Let’s start with the feast day, the feast of SS Tiburtius, Valerian and Maximus, martyrs in Rome.  Tiburtius, Valerian, and Maximus are three Christian martyrs who were buried on 14 April of some unspecified year in the Catacombs of Praetextatus on the Via Appia near Rome. The Acts of Saint Cecilia represent Valerian as her husband, Tiburtius as his brother, and Maximus as a soldier or official who was martyred with the other two. But this work is generally considered not to be historical.

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They were traditionally honored with a joint feast day on 14 April, as shown in the Tridentine Calendar. The 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar removed this celebration, since the only thing really known about them is the historical fact of their burial in the Catacombs of Praetextatus. However, it allowed them to be honored in local calendars.

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All three were given parts in the legend of St Cecilia http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-cecilia/  and honored in Rome from an early date. The Roman Martyrology says that Tiburtius and the others suffered under Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who ruled from 222 – 235. (Valerian is also known as Valerianus.)

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An old English saying says: “The  cuckoo sings from St Tiburtius’s Day to St John’s day [June 24]”. Hence today is sometimes celebrated as Cuckoo Day in England Although strongly identified with St Tiburtius’s Day, Cuckoo Day may better be described as a moveable feast dependent upon the variability of Nature.  The common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, overwinters in Africa and returns to the UK in Spring, but the arrival date varies.  Several communities in England, notably Marsden in Yorkshire, have cuckoo fairs in April to welcome spring. Marsden Cuckoo Festival takes place each year on a designated Saturday in April near to 14 April.

Legend has it that the people of Marsden were aware that when the cuckoo arrived, so did the Spring and sunshine. They tried to keep Spring forever, by building a tower around the cuckoo. Unfortunately, as the last stones were about to be laid, the cuckoo flew away. As the legend says, it “were nobbut just wun course too low.”

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I remember as a schoolboy in England, newly arrived from Australia, walking to school down a wooded country lane and hearing a clear and unmistakable coooo koooo from a tree to my right. “No,” I thought, “that’s somebody hiding and making that sound.” It was so clear and obvious. The first cuckoo of Spring, and my first ever cuckoo.

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The common cuckoo is well known for laying its eggs in the nests of other birds. The cuckoo hatches first and tosses out the other eggs so that the poor “mother” is left to raise the cuckoo instead of its own chicks.

From Shakespeare’s time on, “cuckoo’s nest” has been used as a euphemism for a woman’s “private parts,” as represented in this traditional song:


The tune was used in the South Midlands for a morris dance in some villages. In the group I used to dance for it is customary when we get together for a feast for the eldest bachelor to begin the singing after dinner with his rendition of the song.

So we migrate to Black Day. This is an Asian celebration begun in South Korea but now spreading to other parts of Asia. Black Day is the third in a trinity of celebrations on the 14th of the month. First is 14 February celebrated worldwide as Valentine’s Day (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-valentine/ ), then 14 March or White Day (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/white-day/ ), begun in Japan as a marketing ploy; a day to reciprocate gifts given on Valentine’s Day. South Korean businesses then followed with Black Day on 14 April, a day for single people to lament/celebrate their status.  Those who didn’t give or receive gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day, can get together and eat jajang myeon (jja jang myeong), Korean-Chinese noodles with black bean sauce to commiserate their singledom.

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Jajangmyeon (자장면; 짜장면; jjajangmyeon) is a Korean Chinese dish of special noodles dish topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), diced pork and vegetables, and sometimes also seafood. Jajang (alternately spelled jjajang), the name of the sauce when heated, is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters 炸醬, which literally means ” deep fried sauce.” Myeon (also spelled myun) means “noodle”, which is represented by the Chinese character 麵.

The dish originated from zhajiangmian (炸醬麵, literally “fried sauce noodles”) in China’s Shandong region.  Zhajiangmian was adapted in Korea to fit the Korean palate. Jajangmyeon is legendarily traced back to the Joseon Dynasty. When the Joseon opened the Incheon port, many Chinese people from the Shandong region moved to a town in Incheon, which is now known as Incheon China Town. These people started Chinese restaurants and adapted the traditional Shandong food zhajiangmian in a way that Korean people could enjoy. Originally jajangmyeon was a cheap dish that the working class enjoyed and was more akin to Shandong region’s zhajiangmian than the current day Korean jajamyeon. After the Korean War, Korean chunjang was invented. Korean chunjang has caramel added to give it a sweet taste. After this jajangmyeon became a completely different dish from zhajiangmian. The pronunciation of the dish’s name is nearly identical to that of its Korean counterpart. But Korean jajangmyeon differs from Chinese zhajiangmian, as Korean jjajangmyeon uses black Korean chunjang including caramel, and onions.

Jajangmyeon uses thick noodles made from white wheat flour. The noodles, which are made entirely by hand and not by machines, are called sutamyeon (수타면; 手打麵) are praised in South Korea as an essential ingredient of good jajangmyeon. While in Beijing cuisine, yellow soybean paste (黃醬) is used, in Tianjin and other parts of China tianmianjiang (甜麵醬), hoisin sauce (海鮮醬), or broad (fava) bean sauce (荳瓣醬) may be used in place of the yellow soybean paste. However, In Korea, the sauce is made with a dark soybean paste. This paste, which is made from roasted soybeans and caramel, is called chunjang (literally “spring paste”, hangul: 춘장; Chinese: 春醬) when unheated, while the heated sauce (containing vegetables and meat or seafood) is called jjajang (literally “fried sauce”). Chunjang is stir-fried with diced onions, ground meat (either beef or pork) or chopped seafood, and other ingredients. The meat stock is added to reduce the salty taste, and potato starch or cornstarch is added to give the sauce a thick consistency. The sauce is served hot over noodles, sometimes with sliced raw cucumbers. The same sauce is also used to make jajangbap (rice served with the sauce) and jajangtteokbokki (tteokbokki made with the sauce instead of the usual spicy sauce).

Jajangmyeon is usually served with a small amount of danmuji (단무지). Danmuji are made of radish, specifically daikon. The dish is often served with a small amount of sliced raw onions, seasoned with rice vinegar, accompanied with a little chunjang sauce. The diner eats the noodles with danmuji and onions dipped in chunjang sauce.

I am ostensibly single these days. Actually I am a widower and choose to live alone, but I fit in the broad class of people who did not get a gift on Valentine’s Day or White Day. So I will make black food. By chance I found cuttlefish ink in the supermarket yesterday, so I am going to make a black risotto – common favorite in coastal Croatia. If you can get hold of black bean paste you can make a simulacrum of jjajangmyeon or its Chinese equivalent. When I lived in Yunnan I made pork with black bean paste and noodles all the time as a quick evening meal. This site will guide you through the process of making classic jjajangmyeon  with step-by-step pictures and a video http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/jjajangmyun

If this does not appeal, you can minimally celebrate with the Faroese who by custom never eat eggs on this day, which marks the end of winter. Tradition says that anyone who does will suffer boils for rest of year !!!

Oct 032015
 

jh6

Today is the birthday of James Alfred “Alf” Wight, a British veterinary surgeon and writer, who wrote under the pen name James Herriot. He used his lifetime of experiences as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales to write a series of books of stories about animals and their owners the best known of which are often referred to collectively as All Creatures Great and Small.

Wight was born in Sunderland, County Durham to James and Hannah (Bell) Wight. Shortly after their wedding, the Wights moved from Brandling Street, Sunderland to Glasgow where James took work as both a ship plater and pianist for a local cinema, while Hannah was a singer, as well as a dressmaker. For Alf’s birth, his mother returned to Sunderland, taking him back to Glasgow when he was three weeks old. He attended Yoker Primary School and Hillhead High School. From his father he gained a passion for Sunderland Football Club and remained a lifelong fan. In 1992 he was named a Life President of the club.

In 1939, at the age of 23, he qualified as a veterinary surgeon with Glasgow Veterinary College. In January 1940, he took a brief job at a veterinary practice in Sunderland, but moved in July to work in a rural practice based at 23 Kirkgate in the town of Thirsk, Yorkshire, close to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. On 5 November 1941, he married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury, known as Helen Alderson in his books. The couple had two children, James Alexander (Jim), born 13 February 1943, who also became a vet and was a partner in the practice, and Rosemary (Rosie), born 1947, who became a physician in general practice.

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Wight served in the Royal Air Force in 1942. His wife moved to her parents’ house during this time and, upon being discharged from the RAF as a Leading Aircraftman, Wight joined her. They lived there until 1946, at which point they moved back to Kirkgate, staying until 1953. Later, he moved with his wife to a house on Topcliffe Road, Thirsk, opposite the secondary school. The original practice is now a museum, “The World of James Herriot.”. He later moved with his family to the village of Thirlby, about four miles from Thirsk, where he resided until his death. Wight intended for years to write a book, but with most of his time consumed by veterinary practice and family, his writing ambition went nowhere. Challenged by his wife, in 1966 (at the age of 50), he began writing. After several rejected stories on other subjects like football, he turned to what he knew best. In 1969 Wight wrote If Only They Could Talk, the first of the now-famous series based on his life working as a vet and his training in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

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Owing in part to professional etiquette, which at that time frowned on veterinary surgeons and other professionals from advertising their services, he took a pen name, choosing “James Herriot” after seeing the Scottish goalkeeper, Jim Herriot, play for Birmingham City F.C. in a televised game against Manchester United. If Only They Could Talk was published in the United Kingdom in 1970 by Michael Joseph Ltd, but sales were slow until Thomas McCormack, of St. Martin’s Press in New York City, received a copy and arranged to have it and a second book, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet (1972), published as a single volume in the United States. The resulting book, titled All Creatures Great and Small, was a huge success, spawning numerous sequels, movies and a successful television adaptation.

Contrary to popular belief, Wight’s books are only partially autobiographical, with many of the stories being only loosely based on real events or people. Wight’s son, Jim, states that a lot of the stories, although set in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s in the books, were actually inspired by cases that Wight attended in the 1960s and 1970s.

James Herriot on his farm, Yorkshire, Britain - 1995

From an historical standpoint, the stories help document a transitional period in veterinary medicine in Britain. Agriculture was moving from the traditional use of beasts of burden (in Britain, primarily the draught horse) to reliance upon the mechanical tractor, and medical science was just on the cusp of discovering antibiotics and other drugs that eliminated many of the ancient remedies that were still in use at the time. These and other sociological factors, like increased affluence, prompted a large-scale shift in veterinary practice over the course of the 20th century from a period when virtually all of a vet’s time was spent working with large animals such as horses (motive power in both town and country), cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, to mostly dogs, cats, and other pets. Wight (as Herriot) occasionally steps out of his narrative to comment, with the benefit of hindsight, on the primitive state of veterinary medicine at the time of the story he is relating; for example, he describes his first hysterectomy on a cat and his first (almost disastrous) Caesarean section on a cow.

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The Herriot books are described often as “animal stories” (Wight himself was known to refer to them as his “little cat-and-dog stories”), and given that they are about the life of a country veterinarian, animals certainly play a significant role in most of the stories. Yet animals play a lesser, sometimes even a negligible, role in many of Wight’s tales: the overall theme of his stories is Yorkshire country life. It is Wight’s observations of people, animals, and their close inter-relationship, which give his writing its flavor. Wight was just as interested in their owners as he was in his patients and his writing is, at root, an amiable but keen comment on the human condition. The Yorkshire animals provide the elements of pain and drama; the role of their owners is to feel and express joy and sadness in what is a special, old-fashioned Yorkshire way. As such the books are evocative of a time and place now mostly lost to modern culture and technology.

History feature for Nov7: Alf Wight (aka james Herriot)

Wight’s son, in his biography of his father, reports that he was given to long bouts of depression especially in his 40s. Wight himself was unable to describe the feelings except to refer to them as “melancholy,” or “the vapors.” He underwent a series of treatments, including electro-shock, without much effect. Wight’s son attributes the depression to a combination of feeling as if he failed his parents and was inadequate as a father. His mother’s work as a dressmaker put her in touch with wealthy families, and she had aspirations that James would marry into that class. In consequence she and her husband scrimped so as to send him to expensive private schools. When he became engaged to a regular middle class woman, his mother was so disappointed that she would not attend the wedding, nor did his father. Wight could not afford to send his son and daughter to private schools, and this fact preyed on him even though both felt that they had had a good education at their state schools and would not have fared any better at private schools. His son followed him into veterinary practice, and his daughter, who was accepted to both Oxford and Cambridge, became a family physician.

In his books, Wight calls the town where Herriot lives and works, Darrowby, which he based largely on the towns of Thirsk and Sowerby.

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Wight was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991, and underwent treatment in the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk. He died on 23 February 1995, aged 78, at home in Thirlby. His wife, Joan Wight née Danbury, died four years later on 14 July 1999.

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The parkin of the Yorkshire Dales is legendary. It is a sticky, moist gingerbread made rather dense with the addition of oats. I used to make it all the time in the winter, sometimes adding a cup of chopped rhubarb (common in Yorkshire), for a little extra density and tartness. Letting the finished parkin mellow for up to a week is essential.

Yorkshire Parkin

Ingredients

8 oz/220g soft butter
4 oz/110g soft, dark brown sugar
2oz / 55g black treacle
7oz / 200g golden syrup/ corn syrup
5oz/ 120g oatmeal
7 oz/ 200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger (or more if you fancy)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsp milk

Instructions

Heat the oven to 275°F/140°C

Thoroughly grease an 8″ x 8″/ 20cm x 20cm square cake tin. Parkin is sticky, so do this well.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well.

Melt together the butter, sugar, treacle, and golden syrup over a gentle heat in a heavy pan. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Just be sure the butter is melted, the sugar is dissolved, and the treacle and golden syrup are of pouring consistency.

Gradually add the heated mixture stirring to the dry ingredients, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until they are completely mixed. This is heavy work – take your time to be sure everything is well mixed.

Beat the eggs and milk together and then add them slowly to the batter, stirring well until you have an homogenous mass.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 1½ hours until firm and set and a dark golden brown. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Remove the parkin from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin on a wire rack. Once cool, turn out the parkin and store it in an airtight container for at least 3 days up to a week. In this way the flavors develop and the parkin becomes moist and sticky.