Jun 022013



BBC announcer

On this date in 1896 Guglielmo Marconi applied for a patent on the wireless transmission of signals, “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor.” As suggested by the title, Marconi did not invent wireless transmission, but his system was the first one that actually functioned effectively. Thus he is considered the father of radio.  His interest at the outset was purely in the realm of long distance wireless telegraphy, which he steadily improved on in the subsequent decade.  He had begun his work in his native Italy but he had trouble getting sponsors there. One letter he sent to the ministry of Post and Telegraphs asking for research money was found later with an annotation on the front that essentially said, “he belongs in an insane asylum.” So he moved to England where he found backers.

Marconi was born in Bologna in 1874, second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian landowner, and his Irish/Scots wife, Annie Jameson, daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle in County Wexford, Ireland and granddaughter of John Jameson, founder of whiskey distillers Jameson & Sons.  Marconi was educated privately and spent most of his teen years in physics labs learning from the pioneers of the study of electromagnetic waves, such as Augusto Righi, who laid the foundations for the understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum, and was the first physicist to generate microwaves. These were the very early days of the study of electricity and magnetism and Marconi was in on the ground floor with help from the best.

Once established in England Marconi worked on improvements in his system so that he was able to go from sending a signal a few miles, to sending one across the Atlantic (although his earliest claims at success in this regard are disputed).  He established The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company in 1897 to manufacture wireless telegraphic equipment.  The company, eventually under the Marconi name, survived until 2006 when it was bought out by a Swedish corporation.

The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company had a major hand in developing wireless telegraphy for transatlantic shipping.  It was Marconi equipment and Marconi employees  aboard RMS Titanic that sent out distress signals when the ship hit an iceberg off Newfoundland.  The equipment was actually intended for the use of passengers primarily, but could be used for professional maritime purposes as well.  Marconi took more time than perhaps was necessary to branch out from telegraphy into audio broadcasts, although it can also be said that until he got into the field in 1915 the technology for audio transmissions was barely existent.  The Marconi Company was instrumental in setting up experimental audio broadcasts in 1920 (his first was a transmission of Nellie Melba singing which was heard as far away as Newfoundland). He registered a radio station in 1922 with the call sign 2LO in the Marconi Building in London. This station became the BBC.  Marconi is decidedly dressed down as he broadcasts in comparison with the first BBC  “DJ’s” — as pictured.

Almost from the start of public broadcasting, cooking shows were an intrinsic part of variety programming.  It is generally accepted that the first radio show on cooking was aired in Paris in 1923 featuring  Dr. Édouard de Pomiane, an eminent food scientist at the Institut Pasteur, and devoted foodie.  He hosted a weekly program on Radio-Paris, telling stories of his kitchen experiences and providing recipes suitable for home cooks. As a popular and respected cook, he was arguably the food world’s first media personality. His shows were not just recitals of recipes, but were  sprinkled with humor and anecdotes. Cooking with Pomiane is a cookbook that came out of his broadcasts (still in print). Here is his recipe for Hollandaise Sauce (in translation) taken from the book.  Although I just came across this recipe in researching this post, it is identical with the one I have used with zero failures for decades. Here I was thinking I invented it! I must have been channeling the spirit of the good doctor when I first made Hollandaise for eggs Benedict this way around 1979. It is dead easy and belies the general belief that making Hollandaise is so complicated that it is best left to professionals.  It is also amusing to note that if you search for “Marconi” and “recipe” on the internet, you will come across dozens of recipes for “Marconi and Cheese.” It’s not so much that the typo exists, and is hilarious when you conjure up an image of the dapper Guglielmo snacking on provolone as he operates his radio equipment, but that so many people mindlessly cut and paste other people’s recipes into their own sites without even bothering to check them.

Hollandaise Sauce

Put a spoonful of cold water, a little salt and two yolks of eggs into a small saucepan. Put this little saucepan into a large one containing boiling water, holding the smaller one firmly. Stir quickly, with a fork, the mixture of water and yolk of egg. This begins to thicken. At this moment lift the small saucepan out of the water, add two ounces of butter cut into pieces the size of a nut. Put it back into the hot water. Stir the mixture all the time with a wire beater. The butter melts and the sauce becomes creamy. Lift it out of the water a little. Add two more ounces of butter cut in pieces. Stir. Put it back into the water. The sauce thickens. Keep on stirring. Dip your finger into the sauce. If it burns, lift the saucepan out of the hot water. Stir fifteen seconds more. The sauce is ready. It should be thinner than mayonnaise. It should, however, coat a spoon which you dip in and lift out again. If you like the flavour of lemon, add a few drops at the beginning of the operation, before the butter. You are then much more likely to be successful with your sauce.

I have never succeeded in spoiling a sauce hollandaise. Follow my example.

This sauce is a luxurious accompaniment to boiled fish or tinned asparagus warmed in its own juice.

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