On this date in 1698, in an effort to Westernize his nobility, Tsar Peter I of Russia (Peter the Great) imposed a tax on beards for all men except the clergy and peasantry. He had a medal struck (above) to indicate the wearer had paid the tax. This law is sometimes cited as one of the dumbest taxes in history by people who do not know their history. The law served two purposes in that men either looked more “modern” by shaving or filled Peter’s coffers: a win-win for the tsar. The term “Beard Day” is not official – just a personal piece of whimsy.
In honor of Peter I’d like to showcase types of beards and facial hair because few people nowadays know the vocabulary. For example, Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory” frequently spouts off “facts” which are quite false, but which few people pick up on because they don’t know better. He refers to a Van Dyke as a “goatee without a mustache.” In fact it’s precisely the other way round; a goatee is a Van Dyke without a mustache. This ought to be obvious: goats can grow chin beards, but not mustaches. I don’t necessarily fault Jim Parsons for Sheldon’s numerous mistakes of this sort, but the writers ought to be fired.
A full beard is the most straightforward from its name. A full beard involves not shaving at all. It is the only type of facial hair currently allowed by the Royal Navy (properly trimmed). Here’s a little gallery of famous and not-so-famous full beard wearers.
A full beard can be long and flowing, clipped very short, forked, or styled in numerous ways. The essence is the same – NO shaving.
A jawline beard is a beard that is grown from the chin along the jawline. Chinstrap, chin curtain, neck beard, and brett are all variations of a jawline beard with distinctions being chin coverage and sideburn length. The main distinguishing feature of a jawline beard is that the upper lip is shaven. Lincoln is famous for this style (chin curtain) as is Thoreau (neck beard).
A circle beard, as the name suggests, circles the mouth with chin hair and mustache connected. It is also sometimes called a doorknocker or imperial. This is the beard I am wearing in my profile picture. They are very common among older men in Argentina.
Friendly mutton chops or dundrearies are muttonchop whiskers and a mustache, but with the chin shaven. Dundrearies may or may not connect the muttonchops and mustache, and are noted for the long length of the side whiskers (named for the character Lord Dundreary).
Many variants of all these basic styles exist – navy captain, royale, Reed, Ottoman, Oakley, Verdi, etc. I’ve worn all types at one time or another, as well as being clean shaven (very rare), symbolic of something I am not going to reveal.
Having hair in one’s food is rather unpleasant, legendarily so. Therefore, I have to take a different tack, and will consider the cooking of another “beard” – James Beard (who usually sported a mustache only). I consider Beard to be a relatively basic cook whose recipes are styled “American” on occasion, but which I would normally call “standard.” A lot of his recipes are influenced by European cuisine in general. Is apple pie, for example, American? According to a proverb, but the English claim it too, as do the French. Well, the hamburger is pretty basic “American” so here’s Beard’s favorite recipe from Beard on Food:
2 pounds chopped beef chuck or round
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, as needed
Kosher salt, to taste
Spread the meat out on a board and grate 2 to 3 tablespoons of onion into it—use a fairly fine grater so you get just the juice and very finely grated raw onion. Now mix in about a tablespoon of heavy cream and some freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Form into patties–a 6 to 8-ounce patty for an average serving.
Using a black iron skillet or your best copper one or your pet aluminum frying pan, Teflon-coated or not (with a Teflon coating you won’t need much fat, just a little bit for flavor), and cook the hamburgers in the butter and oil over fairly high heat, giving it 4 to 5 minutes a side, depending on how well done you like it. Salt this creamy, oniony, peppery hamburger before serving it on a buttered bun or English muffin, or as a main course with sliced tomatoes and onions or some home-fried potatoes.
I dare you to get more basic than that. The heavy cream is the Beard twist.