Dec 102019

On this date in 1968 two celebrated theologians died: Thomas Merton and Karl Barth.  Both are honored on this date by the worldwide Anglican community even though neither was Anglican, and neither has been beatified or canonized. Merton spent his active theological years (1950s and 60s) as a Trappist monk, and Barth was a member of the Swiss Reformed tradition.  Nonetheless, they have both been praised by denominations across the Christian spectrum, largely because they thought outside of traditional ecclesiastical boundaries.  For my money, neither went far enough ecumenically, but I’ll give them A for effort.

Barth first came to public notice in the theological community with his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans in the summer of 1916 while he was still a pastor in Safenwil, with the first edition appearing in December 1918 (but with a publication date of 1919). On the strength of the first edition of the commentary, Barth was invited to teach at the University of Göttingen. Barth decided around October 1920 that he was dissatisfied with the first edition and heavily revised it the following eleven months, finishing the second edition around September 1921. Barth argued that the God who is revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions.

In 1934, as the Protestant Church attempted to come to terms with the Third Reich, Barth was largely responsible for the writing of the Barmen declaration (Barmer Erklärung). This declaration rejected the influence of Nazism on German Christianity by arguing that the Church’s allegiance to the God of Jesus Christ should give it the impetus and resources to resist the influence of other lords, such as Adolf Hitler. Barth mailed this declaration to Hitler personally. This was one of the founding documents of the Confessing Church and Barth was elected a member of its leadership council, the Bruderrat. He was forced to resign from his professorship at the University of Bonn in 1935 for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler. Barth then returned to his native Switzerland, where he assumed a chair in systematic theology at the University of Basel. In the course of his appointment he was required to answer a routine question asked of all Swiss civil servants: whether he supported the national defense. His answer was, “Yes, especially on the northern border!” The newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung carried his 1936 criticism of the philosopher Martin Heidegger for his support of the Nazis. In 1938 he wrote a letter to a Czech colleague Josef Hromádka in which he declared that soldiers who fought against the Third Reich were serving a Christian cause.

Barth’s theology found its most sustained and compelling expression in his five-volume (multiple parts) magnum opus, Church Dogmatics (“Kirchliche Dogmatik”). Segments of Church Dogmatics were required reading for me at Oxford as a first year theology student. Fortunately, we did not have to delve into the whole work. Church Dogmatics runs to over six million words and 9,000 pages – one of the longest works of systematic theology ever written.

Thomas Merton followed a much more checkered career path than Barth.  As a youth he was a well-known profligate (much like so many legendary saints in early life before conversion).  After numerous missteps and false starts he determined to become a Trappist monk perhaps as a counterbalance to his misspent earlier life.  By coincidence, on this date in 1941 (the date of his death in 1968), Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master came to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13th he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani’s abbot since 1935.

In his time as a monk, and later priest, Merton wrote 50 books, primarily on spirituality and social justice, and became an international celebrity.  He recognized many points of contact between other faiths, notably Zen, and Christianity, although he remained a dogmatic Catholic.  Here are some quotes, beginning with his famous prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Trappist monasteries are noted for their gardens, which they use for their own needs and also to support them financially. They are also known internationally for their beer production.  There are numerous cookbooks celebrating Trappist cooking (usually vegetarian), and I have mentioned their soups before.  Here is a mushroom and barley dish that I like ( ):


2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 cups broth
1 ¼ cups pearl barley
6 oz. mushrooms
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste


Heat olive oil and add onion and garlic. Sauté until softened and beginning to brown.  Add broth, barley, mushrooms, and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until most liquid is absorbed and mixture is thickened. This will take about 40 minutes. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Apr 232016


Breweries in Germany traditionally celebrate National Beer Day on April 23. On this day in 1516, the “Reinheitsgebot” or “Beer Purity Law” came into force in Bavaria. That makes today the 500th anniversary. According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. With some important changes, this law is still widely in effect in Germany. The 1516 Bavarian law also set the price of beer (depending on the time of year and type of beer), limited the profits made by innkeepers, and made confiscation the penalty for making impure beer.


The text of the 1516 Bavarian law is as follows (translated):

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1069 mL] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller = one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley, WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

The Bavarian order of 1516 was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread, because wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. It may also be that the rule had a protectionist role, since beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that were not present in Bavarian beer. Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit. The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as adding soot, stinging nettle and henbane.

While some sources refer to the Bavarian law of 1516 as the first law regulating food safety, this is inaccurate; earlier food safety regulations can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. Similarly, some sources claim that the law has been essentially unchanged since its adoption, but as early as the mid-16th century Bavaria began to allow ingredients such as coriander, laurel, and wheat. Yeast was also added to modern versions of the law after the discovery of its role in fermentation.

beer2 beer1

Historically, the restriction on ingredients led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener style beers. Only a few regional beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation. However, modern versions of the law have contained significant exceptions for different types of beer (such as top-fermented beers), for export beers, and for different regions.

More recently, German brewers, and some German politicians have argued that the Reinheitsgebot has slowed Germany’s adoption of beer trends popular in the rest of the world, such as Belgian lambics and Euro-American crafted beers. In March 1987, in a case brought by French brewers, the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist, and therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome. This ruling concerned only imported beer, so Germany chose to continue to apply the law to beer brewed in Germany.


After German reunification in 1990 the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in the East German town of Neuzelle, Brandenburg, was warned to stop selling its black beer as it contained sugar. After some negotiations the brewery was allowed to sell it under the name Schwarzer Abt (“Black Abbot”) but could not label it “bier”. This decision was repealed by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany through a special permit, and after legal disputes lasting ten years (known as the “Brandenburg Beer War”) Neuzeller Kloster Brewery gained the right to call “Schwarzer Abt” “bier” again.

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. In addition, the law allows the use of powdered or ground hops and hops extracts, as well as stabilization and fining agents such as PVPP. Top fermented beer is subject to the same rules with the addition that a wider variety of malt can be used as well as pure sugars for flavor and coloring.

The law’s applicability was further limited by a court ruling in 2005, which allowed the sale of beer with different ingredients as long as it was not labeled “beer”. Exceptions to the current rules can be sought, and have been granted to allow gluten-free beer to be labeled as beer despite the use of different ingredients.

I’ve never been a fan of German pilsners and bottom fermented beers in general, either for drinking or cooking. Not enough flavor or body, especially when cooking beef or pork.  Chicken, however, is a potential mate for pilsner or lager, so I have adapted a German recipe for chicken and dumplings to incorporate German beer. I have given several chicken and ale recipes in previous posts.

They are of my own devising based on old recipes. So this one is in the same vein. This version of chicken and dumplings is not at all like the version from the U.S. South (which is closer to chicken and noodles). I just invented this for lunch today using a German recipe as a base. Here’s my heuristic description which you can modify as you wish.


©German-Style Chicken and Dumplings

Cut a chicken in 8 parts (removing the backbone), and sauté in a little olive oil (or lard) to brown on all sides. Place in a heavy pot with a leek (green and white parts) sliced thickly, and a chopped onion. Add a half and half mix of chicken stock and German beer.  Add a handful of chopped parsley. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 40 minutes. Do not overcook. You want the meat juicy yet tender.


While the chicken is cooking make the dumplings. Mix 1 cup of all purpose flour with 4 tablespoons of chopped suet or shortening until they are evenly blended. Add chopped fresh parsley and salt to taste. Add cold water a little at a time and mix to form a stiff dough. Roll the dough into small balls with floured hands and drop them into the cooking broth with the chicken. They will cook in about 10 minutes (depending on size).

Serve in deep bowls with a green vegetable as a side dish, and crusty bread.

Jun 062015


Today is the birthday (1868) of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO, RN, a British Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. On the first expedition, he set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S and discovered the Polar Plateau, on which the South Pole is located. During the second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott’s party discovered plant fossils, proving Antarctica was once forested and joined to other continents. At a distance of 150 miles from their base camp and 11 miles from the next depot, Scott and his companions died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the conventional career of a naval officer in peacetime Victorian Britain. In 1899, he had a chance encounter with Sir Clements Markham, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, and learned for the first time of a planned Antarctic expedition. A few days later, on 11 June, Scott appeared at the Markham residence and volunteered to lead the expedition.[2] Having taken this step, his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed during the final twelve years of his life.

Following the news of his death, Scott became an iconic British hero, a status reflected by the many permanent memorials erected across the nation. In the closing decades of the 20th century, the legend was reassessed as attention focused on the causes of the disaster that ended his and his comrades’ lives. From a previously unassailable position, Scott became a figure of controversy, with questions raised about his competence and character. Commentators in the 21st century have on the whole regarded Scott more positively, emphasizing his personal bravery and stoicism while acknowledging his errors and, more recently, errors by his team members, but ascribing the expedition’s fate primarily to misfortune.


When I learnt about Scott in school in the 1950s and’60s he was generally regarded as a hero and there was not a lot said about his mistakes. I did think it was a bad idea to use ponies and motorized vehicles for hauling supplies (and if I remember rightly, my teacher said something about it too). But it was not made much of. The focus was most definitely on the whole party’s courage against the odds. The 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic, which I saw on television, said much the same thing. I did not know the whole story. Here it is, and you can decide for yourselves.

Ernest Shackleton forged an expedition to the Pole from 1907 to 1909, but returned from the Antarctic having narrowly failed to reach the Pole. This gave Scott the impetus to proceed with his own plans for his second Antarctic expedition. On 24 March 1909, he had taken the Admiralty-based appointment of naval assistant to the Second Sea Lord which placed him conveniently in London. In December he was released on half-pay, to take up the full-time command of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, to be known as the Terra Nova Expedition from its ship, Terra Nova.

It was the expressed hope of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) that this expedition would be “scientific primarily, with exploration and the Pole as secondary objects” but Scott stated that its main objective was “to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honor of this achievement”.


In a memorandum of 1908, Scott presented his view that man-hauling to the South Pole was impossible and that motor traction was needed. Snow vehicles did not yet exist however, and so his engineer Reginald Skelton developed the idea of a caterpillar track for snow surfaces. In the middle of 1909 Scott realized that motors were unlikely to get him all the way to the Pole, and decided additionally to take horses (based on Shackleton’s near success in attaining the Pole, using ponies), and dogs and skis after consultation with Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen during trials of the motors in Norway in March 1910. Man-hauling would still be needed on the Polar Plateau, on the assumption that motors and animals could not ascend the crevassed Beardmore Glacier.

Dog expert Cecil Meares was going to Siberia to select the dogs, and Scott ordered that, while he was there, he should deal with the purchase of Manchurian ponies. Meares was not an experienced horse-dealer, and the ponies he chose proved mostly of poor quality, and ill-suited to prolonged Antarctic work. Meanwhile, Scott also recruited Bernard Day, from Shackleton’s expedition, as his motor expert.


On 15 June 1910, Scott’s ship Terra Nova, an old converted whaler, set sail from Cardiff. Scott meanwhile was fundraising in Britain and joined the ship later in South Africa. Arriving in Melbourne in October 1910, Scott received a telegram from Amundsen stating: “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic Amundsen,” indicating that Scott faced a race to the pole.

The expedition suffered a series of early misfortunes which hampered the first season’s work and impaired preparations for the main polar march. On its journey from New Zealand to the Antarctic, Terra Nova nearly sank in a storm and was then trapped in pack ice for 20 days, far longer than other ships had experienced, which meant a late-season arrival and less time for preparatory work before the Antarctic winter. At Cape Evans in Antarctica, one of the motor sledges was lost during its unloading from the ship, breaking through the sea ice and sinking. Deteriorating weather conditions and weak, unacclimatized ponies affected the initial depot-laying journey, so that the expedition’s main supply point, One Ton Depot, was laid 35 miles (56 km) north of its planned location at 80° S. Lawrence Oates, in charge of the ponies, advised Scott to kill ponies for food and advance the depot to 80° S, which Scott refused to do. Oates is reported as saying to Scott, “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice.” Four ponies died during this journey either from the cold or because they slowed the team down so they were shot.


On its return to base, the expedition learned of the presence of Amundsen, camped with his crew and a large contingent of dogs in the Bay of Whales, 200 miles (320 km) to their east. Scott conceded that his ponies would not be able to start early enough in the season to compete with Amundsen’s cold-tolerant dog teams for the pole, and also acknowledged that the Norwegian’s base was closer to the pole by 60 miles. Shortly afterwards, the death toll among the ponies increased to six, two drowning when sea-ice unexpectedly disintegrated, casting in doubt the possibility of reaching the pole at all. However, during the 1911 winter Scott’s confidence increased; on 2 August, after the return of a three-man party from their winter journey to Cape Crozier, Scott wrote, “I feel sure we are as near perfection as experience can direct.”

Scott outlined his plans for the southern journey to the entire shore party, but left open who would form the final polar team. Eleven days before Scott’s teams set off towards the pole, Scott gave the dog driver Meares the following written orders at Cape Evans dated 20 October 1911 to secure Scott’s speedy return from the pole using dogs:

About the first week of February I should like you to start your third journey to the South, the object being to hasten the return of the third Southern unit [the polar party] and give it a chance to catch the ship. The date of your departure must depend on news received from returning units, the extent of the depot of dog food you have been able to leave at One Ton Camp, the state of the dogs, etc … It looks at present as though you should aim at meeting the returning party about March 1 in Latitude 82 or 82.30

The march south began on 1 November 1911, a caravan of mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, traveling at different rates, all designed to support a final group of four men who would make a dash for the Pole. The southbound party steadily reduced in size as successive support teams turned back. Scott reminded the returning surgeon Edward Atkinson of the order “to take the two dog-teams south in the event of Meares having to return home, as seemed likely”. By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87° 34′ S. Scott announced his decision: five men (Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) would go forward, the other three (Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean) would return. The chosen group marched on, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott’s anguish is indicated in his diary: “The worst has happened”; “All the day dreams must go”; “Great God! This is an awful place.”


The deflated party began the 800-mile (1,300 km) return journey on 19 January. “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous”, wrote Scott on that day. However, the party made good progress despite poor weather, and had completed the Polar Plateau stage of their journey, approximately 300 miles (500 km), by 7 February. In the following days, as the party made the 100-mile (160 km) descent of the Beardmore Glacier, the physical condition of Edgar Evans, which Scott had noted with concern as early as 23 January, declined sharply. A fall on 4 February had left Evans “dull and incapable”, and on 17 February, after another fall, he died near the glacier foot.

Meanwhile back at Cape Evans, the Terra Nova arrived at the beginning of February, and Atkinson decided to unload the supplies from the ship with his own men rather than set out south with the dogs to meet Scott as ordered. When Atkinson finally did leave south for the planned rendezvous with Scott, he encountered the scurvy-ridden Edward (“Teddy”) Evans who needed his urgent medical attention. Atkinson therefore tried to send the experienced navigator Wright south to meet Scott, but chief meteorologist Simpson declared he needed Wright for scientific work. Atkinson then decided to send the short-sighted assistant zoologist Apsley Cherry-Garrard on 25 February, who was not able to navigate, only as far as One Ton depot (which is within sight of Mount Erebus), effectively cancelling Scott’s orders for meeting him at latitude 82 or 82.30 on 1 March.

On the return journey from the Pole, Scott reached the 82.30°S meeting point for the dog teams, three days ahead of schedule, noting in his diary for 27 February 1912 “We are naturally always discussing possibility of meeting dogs, where and when, etc. It is a critical position. We may find ourselves in safety at the next depot, but there is a horrid element of doubt.” By March 10 it became evident the dog teams were not coming: “The dogs which would have been our salvation have evidently failed. Meares [the dog-driver] had a bad trip home I suppose. It’s a miserable jumble.” With 400 miles (670 km) still to travel across the Ross Ice Shelf, Scott’s party’s prospects steadily worsened as, with deteriorating weather, a puzzling lack of fuel in the depots, hunger and exhaustion, they struggled northward. In a farewell letter to Sir Edgar Speyer, dated March 16, Scott wondered whether he had overshot the meeting point and fought the growing suspicion that he had in fact been abandoned by the dog teams: “We very nearly came through, and it’s a pity to have missed it, but lately I have felt that we have overshot our mark. No-one is to blame and I hope no attempt will be made to suggest that we had lacked support.” On the same day, Oates, whose toes had become frostbitten, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. Scott wrote that Oates’ last words were “I am just going outside and may be some time”.


After walking 20 miles farther despite Scott’s toes now becoming frostbitten, the three remaining men made their final camp on 19 March, 11 miles (18 km) short of One Ton Depot. The next day a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress. During the next nine days, as their supplies ran out, and with storms still raging outside the tent, Scott and his companions wrote their farewell letters. Scott gave up his diary after 23 March, save for a final entry on 29 March, with its concluding words: “Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people”. He left letters to Wilson’s mother, Bowers’ mother, a string of notables including his former commander Sir George Egerton, his own mother and his wife. He also wrote his “Message To The Public”, primarily a defense of the expedition’s organization and conduct in which the party’s failure is attributed to weather and other misfortunes, but ending on an inspirational note, with these words:

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last … Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.

Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, or possibly one day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent when it was discovered eight months later suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die.


The bodies of Scott and his companions were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912 and their records retrieved. Their final camp became their tomb; a high cairn of snow was erected over it, topped by a roughly fashioned cross. In January 1913, before Terra Nova left for home, a large wooden cross was made by the ship’s carpenters, inscribed with the names of the lost party and Tennyson’s line from his poem Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”, and was erected as a permanent memorial on Observation Hill, overlooking Hut Point.


Oxo was one of the sponsors of Scott’s expedition. Concentrated meat extract was invented by Justus von Liebig around 1840 and commercialized by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company (Lemco) starting in 1866. The original product was a viscous liquid containing only meat extract and 4% salt. In 1899, the company introduced the trademark Oxo for a cheaper version; the origin of the name is unknown, but presumably comes from the word ‘ox’. The first Oxo cubes were produced in 1910 and further increased Oxo’s popularity, as the cubes were cheaper than the liquid. This means that Scott did not take Oxo cubes to the Antarctic but presumably took meat extract.

I’ve always been a fan of Oxo cubes using them as a simple hot drink when I want something besides mate or tea, or when I need a lift when convalescent. I also use them quite often to enliven soups and stews. Here’s Oxo’s recipe site for beef cubes (they now make several flavors) They’re not very imaginative I’m afraid, but you get the general idea.

One of my personal favorites is beef and barley soup, warming for polar weather. It’s much like Scotch Broth but with beef instead of lamb, and you can ring the changes with the vegetables ( My heuristic recipe:


©Beef and Barley Soup

Chop an onion and sauté in olive oil over medium heat in a heavy stock pot until golden. Set aside, heat the remaining oil to high, and brown 1 pound of lean beef, cut in bite-sized pieces, on all sides. Add 2 pints of water, 2 cups of pearl barley, and 2 Oxo cubes. Bring to a boil and simmer.

Whilst on the simmer you can chop and add what you want in the way of veggies and herbs. I always add the green parts of leeks (well scrubbed), and sometimes carrots. For flavor I use freshly ground black pepper, fresh parsley, and thyme. You can add rosemary as well if you like. I never add salt to my recipes, especially here because the Oxo cubes have enough.

Simmer until the barley is cooked, about an hour, adding more water as needed. Add the white parts of leeks cut into thin rounds, adjust the seasonings, and simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.


Jan 032015


Today is the birthday (1892) of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, English writer, poet, and philologist, best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at my Oxford college, Pembroke, from 1925 to 1945, and in his last years when I was in residence he was often seen at dinner. I had the good fortune to meet him in 1971. His celebrity status as a fantasy writer was in its early phases back then because his books did not gain popularity until the 1960’s. Nonetheless, we were amazed to be able to talk to him. By then he looked like a gnarly old tree from Middle Earth.

There is no real need to talk about his well-known books. Instead I will give you (in synopsis) two aspects of his life that are less well known: his service in the army in the First World War, and his linguistic scholarship.jrr1

In 1914 when the United Kingdom entered the First World War, Tolkien’s relatives were shocked that he did not immediately volunteer for the British Army. In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, Tolkien recalled, “In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.” Instead, Tolkien endured the family and public scorn and entered a university program that allowed him to delayed enlistment until completing his degree. By the time he passed his Finals in July 1915, Tolkien recalled that the hints were, “becoming outspoken from relatives.” So he volunteered as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months. In a letter to his fiancée, Edith, Tolkien complained, “Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed.” They were married soon after and lived near the training camp.

On 2 June 1916, Tolkien received a telegram summoning him to Folkestone for transportation to France. He later wrote, “Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then … it was like a death.”

On 7 June, Tolkien was informed that he had been assigned as a signals officer to the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, which had been decimated by heavy fighting at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He left for the trenches on 27 June 1916 and joined his new unit at Rubempré, near Amiens and was put in command of enlisted men who were drawn mainly from the mining, milling, and weaving towns of Lancashire. According to John Garth, Tolkien “felt an affinity for these working class men,” but military protocol forbade him from developing friendships with “other ranks”. Instead, he was required to “take charge of them, discipline them, train them, and probably censor their letters… If possible, he was supposed to inspire their love and loyalty.” He later wrote, “The most improper job of any man… is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Tolkien’s brigade was sent to the Somme in early July 1916. In between terms behind the lines at Bouzincourt, he participated in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoubt and the Leipzig Salient. According to the memoirs of the Reverend Mervyn S. Evers, Anglican chaplain to the Lancashire Fusiliers:

On one occasion I spent the night with the Brigade Machine Gun Officer and the Signals Officer [Tolkien] in one of the captured German dugouts … We dossed down for the night in the hopes of getting some sleep, but it was not to be. We no sooner lay down than hordes of lice got up. So we went round to the Medical Officer, who was also in the dugout with his equipment, and he gave us some ointment which he assured us would keep the little brutes away. We anointed ourselves all over with the stuff and again lay down in great hopes, but it was not to be, because instead of discouraging them it seemed to act like a kind of hors d’oeuvre and the little beggars went at their feast with renewed vigour.

Tolkien’s time in combat was a terrible stress for Edith, who feared that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband’s death. To get around the British Army’s postal censorship, the Tolkiens developed a secret code for his letters home. By using the code, Edith could track her husband’s movements on a map of the Western Front.


On 27 October 1916, as his battalion attacked Regina Trench, Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by lice. He was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends were killed in the war. Among their number were Rob Gilson of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, who was killed on the first day of the Somme while leading his men in the assault on Beaumont Hamel. Fellow T.C.B.S. member Geoffrey Smith was killed during the same battle when a German artillery shell landed on a first aid post. Tolkien’s battalion was almost completely wiped out following.

Tolkien might well have been killed himself, but he had suffered from health problems and had been removed from combat multiple times.

According to John Garth:

Although Kitchener’s army enshrined old social boundaries, it also chipped away at the class divide by throwing men from all walks of life into a desperate situation together. Tolkien wrote that the experience taught him, ‘a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy; especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.’ He remained profoundly grateful for the lesson. For a long time, he had been imprisoned in a tower, not of pearl, but of ivory.

In later years, Tolkien indignantly declared that those who searched his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken:

One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.

A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service.

During his recovery in a cottage in Little Haywood, Staffordshire, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps and was promoted to Lieutenant. When he was stationed at Kingston-upon-Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock. After his wife’s death in 1971, Tolkien remembered,

I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.

This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien and these names are inscribed on their headstone.

Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. He wrote that he struggled mightily with “walrus.” In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest lecturer there. While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon, both becoming academic standard works for several decades. He also translated other Old English works In 1925, he went to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. During his time at Pembroke he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.


In the 1920’s, Tolkien began a translation of Beowulf, which he finished in 1926, but never published. It was finally edited by his son and published in 2014, almost 90 years after its completion. Ten years after finishing his translation, Tolkien gave a highly acclaimed lecture on the work entitled “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” which had a lasting influence on Beowulf research. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about Beowulf is “widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism,” noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to its purely linguistic elements. At the time, the consensus of scholarship deprecated Beowulf for dealing with childish battles with monsters rather than realistic tribal warfare. Tolkien argued that the author of Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem. Where Beowulf does deal with specific tribal struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded Beowulf: “Beowulf is among my most valued sources,” and this influence may be seen throughout the general background of Middle-earth. According to Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien had a unique way of beginning his series of lectures on Beowulf:

He would come silently into the room, fix the audience with his gaze, and suddenly begin to declaim in a resounding voice the opening lines of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, commencing with a great cry of Hwæt! (The first word of this and several other Old English poems), which some undergraduates took to be ‘Quiet!’ It was not so much a recitation as a dramatic performance, an impersonation of an Anglo-Saxon bard in a mead hall, and it impressed generations of students because it brought home to them that Beowulf was not just a set text to be read for the purposes of examination, but a powerful piece of dramatic poetry.

Decades later, W.H. Auden wrote in a letter to Tolkien who was one of his teachers at Oxford,

I don’t think that I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf.

Tolkien learned Latin, French, and German from his mother, and while at school he learned Middle English, Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Old Norse, Spanish, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. He was also familiar with Danish, Dutch, Lombardic, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Swedish and older forms of modern Germanic and Slavonic languages, and started constructing his own languages as a teenager. A true linguist!

Since Tolkien’s primary academic interest was Old English it seems right to give you an Anglo-Saxon recipe. This one has been reconstructed from 7th century descriptions. It’s pretty simple and delicious.  You can use rabbit in place of hare.


Hare Stew with Barley


2 oz butter
1 hare
1lb washed and trimmed leeks, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
6 oz pearl barley
3 tbsps vinegar
2 bay leaves
salt and, pepper
15 fresh, roughly chopped sage leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried sage


Heat the butter on medium high heat in a heavy saucepan and sauté the garlic and leeks until softened. Reserve them.

Joint the hare and brown with what remains of the butter.

Return the leeks and garlic to the pot. Add the barley, vinegar, bay leaves and sage, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cover with water or light stock.

Bring the pot to the boil and then simmer gently, covered, for at least 1 ½ hours. Make sure the barley is thoroughly cooked and the hare is tender.

Adjust the seasonings and serve in deep bowls with wholewheat bread.

Serves 6

May 292013

Everest-First-Ascent-Sir-Edmund-Hillary-Iconic-Photo-Of-Tenzing-Norgay-On-Everest-Summit-May-29-1953           tenzing


Tenzing Norgay and Qomolongma (Mt Everest)

Today we celebrate the birthday of Tenzing Norgay, who with New Zealand beekeeper, Edmund Hillary, reached the summit of Mt Everest (jo mo glang ma; Chomolungma or Qomolangma “Holy Mother”) on this date in 1953. Norgay did not know the date of his birth because there were no records kept at that time. He did not even know the year, but he knew he was born in the Tibetan year of the rabbit, so it seems likely he was born in 1914. Based on what he was told about the crops and the weather when he was born he conjectured it was late May.  After he and Hillary reached the summit of Everest on May 29, he celebrated his birthday on that date thereafter. He’s occasionally referred to as the Buzz Aldrin (2nd man on the moon) of Everest.  Yet the iconic photograph of their conquest of the summit is of Norgay (see picture). Norgay says that Hillary refused to have his picture taken. Some say it was actually because Norgay did not know how to use a camera, but Hillary’s modesty at not wanting a photograph of himself is entirely in keeping with his character (and the idea that an illiterate Nepalese peasant could not press a shutter, or even try, seems a bit racist to me).

There are conflicting reports as to where Norgay was born and raised because his autobiography proved to have inconsistencies in it. He was not born a Sherpa despite his common appellation “Sherpa Tenzing,” but he may have wanted it to appear so because he lived most of his life as a Sherpa.  It is now generally accepted that he was born in Tsa-chu in Nepal, and raised in Thami, a Nepalese village near the Tibetan border and close to Everest. He was originally called “Namgyal Wangdi,” but at some point his name was changed, for reasons that are obscure. Tenzing Norgay translates as “wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion.” He ran away from home twice in his teens, first to Kathmandu and later Darjeeling. He was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to be a monk, but he decided that it was not for him, and left. At the age of 19, he eventually settled in the Sherpa community in Too Song Bhusti in Darjeeling, West Bengal, where he settled with Sherpas and married a Sherpa. In that way he became integrated into the Sherpa community. He could speak 7 languages, but could not read and write.

Norgay began his mountaineering experience at the age of 20 as a high altitude porter for three official British attempts on Everest in 1930’s. He was also part of teams of mountaineers in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. He scaled Nanda Devi, which he described as the most difficult climb he ever took. In 1947, he took part in an unsuccessful attempt at Everest by an unofficial expedition consisting of the Canadian born Earl Denman and two Sherpas. Lacking proper support the attempt was risky, but when a massive storm hit them at 22,000 ft (6,700 m), they were forced to abandon the effort. Also in 1947, Norgay took part in a Swiss ascent of Kedarnath in the western Garhwal Himalaya, and was instrumental in the rescue of sirdar (head porter), Wangdi Norbu, who had fallen almost 1,000 ft (300 m) into deep snow, taking another climber with him, crampons first.  Subsequently Norgay was promoted to the position of sirdar.

In 1952 Norgay took part in two Swiss expeditions led by Raymond Lambert, the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern Nepalese side. On the first attempt he and Lambert reached the then record height of 28,215 ft (8,599 m). On the second attempt they were less successful, but it was at this time that Norgay was named a full member of the expedition.  Norgay said that this was “the greatest honor that had ever been paid me”

In 1953, he took part in Sir John Hunt’s expedition, Norgay’s seventh expedition to Everest. It was on this attempt that he and Edmund Hillary became the first men to reach the summit. On a previous climb Hillary fell into a deep crevasse and Norgay saved him from hitting the bottom by quick action, securing Hillary’s rope with his ice ax.  Hence Hillary chose him as his partner on Everest.  A first attempt at the summit on 26 May by two other members of the expedition had to turn back within 300 vertical feet (90 m) of the prize when one of the oxygen systems failed.  Hillary and Norgay set out on 28 May, and reached the summit at 11.00 on 29 May. They stayed 15 minutes to take enough pictures to prove they had reached the summit and headed back down. Norgay became an instant celebrity in Nepal and was showered with honors.  He wrote: “It has been a long road … From a mountain slave, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax.” He spent the rest of his life as a mountaineering instructor.

Although Norgay was not born a Sherpa he adopted the culture, and so I have chosen a Sherpa recipe, Lamb and Barley Soup.  Sherpa cooking is heavily influenced by two factors: what they can grow at high altitude and what is most nourishing and warming in a cold climate.  So their dishes feature of lot of hearty soups made with potatoes, barley, and cold weather greens such as spinach. I focused on this one because it reminds me of Scotch Broth, a lamb and barley soup I grew up eating, and still love to make when I have a lamb bone left over from a roast.

Sherpa Style Lamb and Barley Soup


1 cup barley
1 lb (½  kilo) lamb, cubed
4 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped tomatoes
4 oz (120 g) spinach, washed and torn into small pieces
1 cup chopped onions
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
3 cups lamb broth or water


Heat the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot.

Add the onions and sauté until lightly browned.

Season the lamb with curry powder, salt, and pepper and add to the onion mixture. Brown the meat well.

Add the mushrooms to the lamb mixture and sauté for 5 minutes over low heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and, turmeric and stir to coat the ingredients in the pot.

Add the tomatoes, soy sauce, and broth. Increase the heat and bring the soup to a boil.

Add the barley and stir well.

Lower the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the barley grains and lamb are tender.

When almost ready to serve, add the spinach to the soup and wilt it for one minute.

Serves 4-6 as a main meal