Nov 252014
 

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On this date in 1952 The Mousetrap, a murder mystery play by Agatha Christie opened in the West End of London and has been running continuously since then. It has by far the longest initial run of any play in history, with its 25,000th performance taking place on 18 November 2012. It is the longest running show (of any type) of the modern era. The play is also known for its twist ending, which the audience is traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre.

The play began life as a short radio play broadcast on 30 May 1947 called Three Blind Mice dedicated to Queen Mary. The play had its origins in the real-life case of the death of a boy, Dennis O’Neill, who died while in the foster care of a Shropshire farmer and his wife in 1945.

The play is based on a short story, itself based on the radio play, but Christie asked that the story not be published as long as it ran as a play in the West End of London. The short story has still not been published within the United Kingdom but it has appeared in the United States in the 1950 collection Three Blind Mice and Other Stories.

When she wrote the play, Christie gave the rights to her grandson Matthew Prichard as a birthday present. In the United Kingdom, only one production of the play in addition to the West End production can be performed annually, and under the contract terms of the play, no film adaptation can be produced until the West End production has been closed for at least six months.

The play had to be renamed at the insistence of Emile Littler who had produced a play called Three Blind Mice in the West End before the Second World War. The suggestion to call it The Mousetrap came from Christie’s son-in-law, Anthony Hicks. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “The Mousetrap” is Hamlet’s answer to Claudius’s inquiry about the name of the play whose prologue and first scene the court has just observed (III, ii). The play is actually “The Murder of Gonzago,” but Hamlet answers metaphorically, since “the play’s the thing” in which he intends to “catch the conscience of the king.”

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The Mousetrap’s longevity has ensured its popularity with tourists from around the world. In 1997, at the initiative of producer Stephen Waley-Cohen, the theatrical education charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects was launched, helping young people experience London’s theatre.

As a stage play, The Mousetrap had its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 6 October 1952. It was originally directed by Peter Cotes, elder brother of John and Roy Boulting, the film directors. Its pre-West End tour then took it to the New Theatre Oxford, the Manchester Opera House, the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham before it began its run in London on 25 November 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre. It ran at this theatre until Saturday, 23 March 1974 when it immediately transferred to the larger St Martin’s Theatre, next door, where it reopened on Monday, 25 March thus keeping its “initial run” status. The London run has now exceeded 25,000 performances. The director of the play for many years has been David Turner.

Christie herself did not expect The Mousetrap to run for such a long time. In her autobiography, she reports a conversation that she had with Peter Saunders: “Fourteen months I am going to give it”, says Saunders. To which Christie replies, “It won’t run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.” When it broke the record for the longest run of a play in the West End in September 1957, Christie received a mildly grudging telegram from fellow playwright Noël Coward: “Much as it pains me I really must congratulate you …” In 2011 (by which time The Mousetrap had been running for almost 59 years) this long-lost document was found by a Cotswold furniture maker who was renovating a bureau purchased by a client from the Christie estate.

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The original West End cast included Richard Attenborough as Detective Sergeant Trotter and his wife Sheila Sim as Mollie Ralston. They took a 10% profit-participation in the production, which was paid for out of their combined weekly salary (“It proved to be the wisest business decision I’ve ever made… but foolishly I sold some of my share to open a short-lived Mayfair restaurant called ‘The Little Elephant’ and later still, disposed of the remainder in order to keep Gandhi afloat.”

Since the retirement of Mysie Monte and David Raven, who each made history by remaining in the cast for more than 11 years, in their roles as Mrs Boyle and Major Metcalf, the cast has been changed annually. The change usually occurs around late November around the anniversary of the play’s opening, and was the initiative of Sir Peter Saunders, the original producer. There is a tradition of the retiring leading lady and the new leading lady cutting a “Mousetrap cake” together.

The play has also made theatrical history by having an original “cast member” survive all the cast changes since its opening night. The late Deryck Guyler can still be heard, via a recording, reading the radio news bulletin in the play to this present day. The set has been changed in 1965 and 1999, but one prop survives from the original opening – the clock which sits on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the main hall

“Mousetrap” is old Brit slang for cheese that is inedible (hence used in mousetraps). Remember – the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Well, I figured I would turn this on its head and talk about exotic and extraordinary cheeses. I figured one twist, to match the twist ending of the play, would be to talk about cheeses that are not made from cow’s milk. But whilst I am at it I thought I should exclude sheep and goat milk too. Not exotic enough. That brings me to Pule.

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Pule, Serbian donkey milk cheese (produced at Zasavica Special Nature Reserve in Serbia), is reportedly the world’s most expensive cheese, fetching around 1,000 Euros per kilogram. In September 2013, the cheese was valued by a news source at $600 USD per pound. It is so expensive because of its rarity: there are only about 100 jennies in the landrace of Balkan donkeys that are milked for pule making. Each jenny must be hand-milked three times daily and it takes 25 liters (6.6 gallons) of milk to make one kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese. Incidentally, it is reputed that Cleopatra bathed in donkey milk to maintain her skin tone.

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Moose milk cheese is also rare, not because lactating moose are particularly rare, but because milking them is an exceedingly delicate matter. You have to sit with the female in complete silence for about 2 hours to produce 2 liters of milk. This cheese is only made in Sweden by the Moose House, produced from the milk of Gullan, Haelga, and Juno, three cows abandoned by their mother and adopted by the Johannson family. Moose lactate only from May to September. Each animal produces about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of milk per day, so each year the farm can only offer 300 kg (660 pounds) of cheese. The cheese contains 12 percent fat and 12 percent protein.

Tibetans and Nepalis have been using yak milk for centuries, but its use for cheese is relatively new, largely due to the influence of Westerners. This site gives a good overview of introducing nomadic Tibetans to the production of Yak cheese.

http://www.cowsoutside.com/yak_cheese.html

The problem was that cheese as a product did not appeal to the Yak herders’ tastes—who wants to eat rotten milk? But it is now being produced and exported to the West as a way of providing economic aid to the herders. You can get it mail order.

Finally I give you mare’s milk cheese. Here I am devolving more than usually into the realms of the unknown. Mare’s milk is typically fermented into a drink known as koomis, which is mildly alcoholic. I’ve had it once in a Turkic region of Russia and cannot say that I am in love with it. Then again I had it for breakfast with some industrial-strength dumplings after a night of dancing with local villagers, so it is possible my palate was off. Mare’s milk does not have enough casein and fat to make cheese without mixing it with other milks. In case you are curious, human milk has the same problem. I have it on good authority that mare’s milk cheese can be found in NW China, so it’s on my list. I’m not that far away. Well, it’s a hike, but not like getting there from Buenos Aires.

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So have at it. Celebrate The Mousetrap with the most exotic cheese plate you can muster. Here’s one valued at $3,200 and includes gold flecked white stilton as well as Pule and other rarities.

Apr 012014
 

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Today is the birthday (1755) of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer and politician who was, and still is, an enormously influential food writer. He served as mayor of Belley, the city where he was born, but his opposition to the Jacobins during the French Revolution made it necessary for him to flee to Switzerland in 1792. He then made his way to New York, where he taught language and played violin in the John Street Theater Orchestra to support himself.

After two years in New York, Brillat-Savarin spent time in Connecticut familiarizing himself with U.S. culture and food. His discourse on hunting and cooking wild turkey (including his discussions on the subject with Thomas Jefferson) is riveting reading. Approximately four years after his exile, Brillat-Savarin was able to return to France after being reinstated as an honorable person. Soon after, he began serving as a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Paris, a post he held for the rest of his life.

Brillat-Savarin embraced Parisian society and intellectual life, but he is best known for his culinary expertise and his twenty aphorisms on food, the most famous of which is, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Even as a child he loved to be near the kitchen. While in Paris, he wrote Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, which he published anonymously. Chapters discussed, among other things, the aphrodisiac properties of certain foods, the nature of digestion, and the dangers of acids in the stomach. The book was an success, and the people of Paris were anxious to learn the identity of this witty and knowledgeable author. His colleagues were not as impressed as the public, however, and looked down on him, not considering him to be an expert in a relevant field of study. He had previously written various treatises on dueling, economics, and history, but these were not very well known.

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Brillat-Savarin contributed to the knowledge of digestion and nutrition through his essays on food and taste. He also shared his ideas on food preparation and its role in life and philosophy, and he provided discourses on obesity and its cure. In recognition of his achievements, various dishes, garnishes, a cake mold, and a cheese bear his name.

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Brillat-Savarin’s work reflects interactions with philosophers and physicians of his time. While he remained a bachelor all his life, he had many prominent guests sitting at his table for meals, and he often sat at the best tables of Paris. Among his guests were Napoleon’s doctor, Jean-Nicolas Corvisart, the surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren, the pathologist Jean Cruveilhier, and other medical experts. Cruveilhier was such an authority on the stomach that gastric ulcers are referred to as Cruveilhier’s disease. Through such interactions, Brillat-Savarin undoubtedly gained knowledge about the chemistry of food and how it relates to the physiology of digestion. So passionate was Brillat-Savarin about food that many people identified him more often as a chef rather than a lawyer.

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Brillat-Savarin died on 2 February 1826 in Paris and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.  I am slightly worried by his headstone (pictured) because it says that he was born on 2 April, yet all authorities I have read agree he was born 1 April.

The complete text of The Physiology of Taste in an early English translation can be found online here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5434/pg5434.html

Otherwise it is available in numerous print versions in French and English (it has never been out of print).  I encourage you to dip into it.  I am going to present you first with his 20 aphorisms and then his discussion of the great French dish pot-au-feu.

Aphorisms of the Professor.

To Serve as Prolegomena to His Work and Eternal Basis to the Science.

I. The universe would be nothing were it not for life and all that lives must be fed.

II. Animals fill themselves; man eats. The man of mind alone knows how to eat.

III. The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed.

IV. Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are.

V. The Creator, when he obliges man to eat, invites him to do so by appetite, and rewards him by pleasure.

VI. Gourmandise is an act of our judgment, in obedience to which, we grant a preference to things which are agreeable, over those which have not that quality.

VII. The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all aeras; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure.

VIII. The table is the only place where one does not suffer from ennui during the first hour.

IX. The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.

X. Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.

XI. The order of food is from the most substantial to the lightest.

XII. The order of drinking is from the mildest to the most foamy and perfumed.

XIII. To say that we should not change our drinks is a heresy; the tongue becomes saturated, and after the third glass yields but an obtuse sensation.

XIV. A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who has lost an eye.

XV. A cook may be taught, but a man who can roast, is born with the faculty.

XVI. The most indispensable quality of a good cook is promptness. It should also be that of the guests.

XVII. To wait too long for a dilatory guest, shows disrespect to those who are punctual.

XVIII. He who receives friends and pays no attention to the repast prepared for them, is not fit to have friends.

XIX. The mistress of the house should always be certain that the coffee be excellent; the master that his liquors be of the first quality.

XX. To invite a person to your house is to take charge of his happiness as long as he be beneath your roof.

Pot-au-feu is one of the great classic dishes of France, served by rich and poor alike.  Brillat-Savarin was not enamored of haute cuisine or fancy cooking.  He prepared simple, hearty dishes prepared well and served without fanfare.  His discussion of pot-au-feu is a classic.

MEDITATION VI.

Section I. POT-AU-FEU, POTAGE, ETC.

 Pot-au-feu is a piece of beef, intended to be cooked in boiling water, slightly salted so as to extract all the soluble parts.

Bouillon is the fluid which remains after the operation.

Bouilli is the flesh after it has undergone the operation.

Water dissolves at first a portion of the osmazome; then the albumen coagulates at 50 degrees Reaumur, and forms the foam we see. The rest of the osmazome, with the extractive part of juice, and finally a portion of the wrapping of the fibres detached by the continuity of ebullition.

To have good bouillon, the water must be heated slowly, and the ebullition must be scarcely perceptible, so that the various particles necessarily dissolved, may unite ultimately and without trouble.

It is the custom to add to bouillon, vegetable or roots, to enhance the taste, and bread or pates to make it more nourishing. Then it is what is called potage.

Potage is a healthy food, very nourishing, and suits every body; it pleases the stomach and prepares it for reception and digestion. Persons threatened with obesity should take bouillon alone.

All agree that no where is potage made so well as in France, and in my travels I have been able to confirm this assertion. Potage is the basis of French national diet, and the experience of centuries has perfected it.

Section II. BOUILLI.

Bouilli is a healthful food, which satisfies hunger readily, is easily digested, but which when eaten alone restores strength to a very small degree, because in ebullition the meat has lost much of its animalizable juices.

We include in four categories the persons who eat bouilli.

1. Men of routine, who eat it because their fathers did, and who, following this practice implicitly, expect to be imitated by their children.

2. Impatient men, who, abhorring inactivity at the table, have contracted the habit of attacking at once whatever is placed before them.

3. The inattentive, who eat whatever is put before them, and look upon their meals as a labor they have to undergo. All that will sustain them they put on the same level, and sit at the table as the oyster does in his bed.

4. The voracious, who, gifted with an appetite which they seek to diminish, seek the first victim they can find to appease the gastric juice, which devours them, and wish to make it serve as a basis to the different envois they wish to send to the same destination.

Professors of gastronomy never eat bouilli, from respect to the principles previously announced, that bouilli is flesh without the juices.

Pot-au-feu is one of my favorite dishes – so much so that a make a version of it about once per week. Many cultures have their own version of pot-au-feu such as the northern Italian bollito misto or the Argentine puchero. I am not inclined to give you a fixed recipe because that would destroy the spirit of pot-au-feu.

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©Pot-au-Feu

A classic pot-au-feu begins with marrow bones and stewing beef which may be browned or not.  For 4 people you will need about 2 lbs of beef cut in large chunks and 1-2 lbs of bones.  Place them in a large, heavy stock pot and add 4 pints of water.  The essential secret concerning pot-au-feu is that the water must be brought to a simmer very slowly and maintained at the merest simmer for the entire cooking time – 5 hours or longer.  Some people add vegetables right at the beginning, but I find that this practice, while making a rich broth, overcooks the vegetables.  So I let the meat and bones simmer for about 3 hours before adding the vegetables.

When the water starts to simmer, add salt to taste.  This was bring a brownish-grey scum to the surface.  Use a slotted spoon to remove it, add a small amount of cold water to the pot to stop the simmering and then let it warm to the simmer again.  This will induce more scum to rise, which should be removed.  Repeat this process for about 15 to 20 minutes until there is no more scum, just a white froth.

Add a bay leaf, a coarsely chopped onion, a minced clove of garlic, and some parsley and thyme, and let gently simmer, covered for 3 hours.  Then add coarsely diced carrots, leeks, turnips, and celery, or whatever hardy vegetables you desire.  It is customary to cook potatoes separately if you desire them.

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When the meat is very tender, strain off the broth (bouillon) into a fresh pot and bring to the boil.  If you desire you can clarify it to make a consommé, but I prefer it as is.  Keep the meat and vegetables (bouilli) warm whilst you serve the bouillon.  Serve the bouilli with sauces and garnishes of your choice, which might include mustard, horseradish, cornichons, pickled onions and the like.  I serve the meat and vegetables all together but it is also common to serve the meat and vegetables in separate serving dishes.

Mar 182014
 

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Today is the birthday (1893) of Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC, English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War. His shockingly realistic war poetry concerning the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor Siegfried Sassoon, and stood in stark contrast both to the public perception of war at the time and to the confidently patriotic verse written by earlier war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Among his best-known works – most of which were published posthumously – are “Dulce et Decorum Est,” “Insensibility,” “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” “Futility,” and “Strange Meeting.”

Wilfred Owen was born at Plas Wilmot, a house in Weston Lane, near Oswestry in Shropshire of mixed English and Welsh ancestry. He was the eldest of four children, his siblings being Harold, Colin, and Mary Millard Owen. At that time, his parents, Thomas and Harriet Susan (née Shaw) Owen, lived in a comfortable house owned by his grandfather, Edward Shaw but, after the latter’s death in January 1897, and the house’s sale in March, the family lodged in back streets of Birkenhead while Thomas temporarily worked in the town with the railway company employing him. In April the latter transferred to Shrewsbury, where the family lived with Thomas’ parents in Canon Street.

In 1898, Thomas transferred to Birkenhead again when he became stationmaster at Woodside station   and the family lived with him, at three successive homes in the Tranmere district, before moving back to Shrewsbury in 1907. Wilfred was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School (later known as the Wakeman School).

He discovered his poetic vocation in 1903 or 1904 during a holiday spent in Cheshire. Owen was raised as an Anglican of the evangelical school, and in his youth was a devout believer, in part due to his strong relationship with his mother, which was to last throughout his life. His early influences included the Bible and the “big six” of romantic poetry, particularly John Keats. For Owen’s last two years of formal education he was a pupil-teacher at the Wyle Cop school in Shrewsbury. In 1911, he passed the matriculation exam for the University of London, but not with the first-class honours needed for a scholarship, which in his family’s circumstances was the only way he could have afforded to attend.

In return for free lodging, and some tuition for the entrance exam, Owen worked as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading. During this time he attended classes at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading), in botany and later, at the urging of the head of the English Department, took free lessons in Old English. His time spent at Dunsden parish led him to disillusionment with the Church, both in its ceremony and its failure to provide aid for those in need.

From 1913, he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France, and later with a family. There he met the older French poet Laurent Tailhade, with whom he later corresponded in French. When war broke out, he did not rush to enlist, and even considered the French army, but eventually returned to England.

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On 21 October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles Officers’ Training Corps. For the next seven months, he trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex. On 4 June 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant (on probation) in the Manchester Regiment. Initially, he held his troops in contempt for their loutish behavior, and in a letter to his mother described his company as “expressionless lumps.” However, his life was to be changed dramatically by a number of traumatic experiences. He fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion; he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, and spent several days lying out on an embankment in Savy Wood amongst (or so he thought) the remains of a fellow officer. Soon afterwards, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen’s life.

Whilst at Craiglockhart, he made friends in Edinburgh’s artistic and literary circles, and did some teaching at the Tynecastle High School, in a poor area of the city. In November he was discharged from Craiglockhart, judged fit for light regimental duties. He spent a contented and fruitful winter in Scarborough, and in March 1918 was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. While in Ripon he composed or revised a number of poems, including “Futility” and “Strange Meeting.” He spent his 25th birthday quietly at Ripon Cathedral, which is dedicated to his namesake, St. Wilfrid of Hexham.

At the very end of August 1918, Owen returned to the front line – perhaps imitating the example of his admired friend Sassoon. On 1 October 1918 Owen led units of the Second Manchesters to storm a number of enemy strong points near the village of Joncourt. However, only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, he was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents’ house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the Joncourt action, he was awarded the Military Cross, an award he had always sought in order to justify himself as a war poet, but the award was not gazetted until 15 February 1919. The citation followed on 30 July 1919:

2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy. Throughout he behaved most gallantly.

Owen is regarded by some critics as the leading poet of the First World War, known for his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare. He had been writing poetry for some years before the war, himself dating his poetic beginnings to a stay at Broxton by the Hill, when he was ten years old. The Romantic poets Keats and Shelley influenced much of Owen’s early writing and poetry. His great friend, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, later had a profound effect on Owen’s poetic voice, and Owen’s most famous poems (“Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”) show direct results of Sassoon’s influence. Manuscript copies of the poems survive, annotated in Sassoon’s handwriting. Owen’s poetry would eventually be more widely acclaimed than that of his mentor. While his use of pararhyme (near rhyme) with heavy reliance on assonance of consonants was innovative, he was not the only poet at the time to use these particular techniques. He was, however, one of the first to experiment with it extensively.

Here is an excerpt from “Strange Meeting” with the pararhymes in bold.

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

Here is “Dulce et Decorum Est” preceded by the marked up manuscript.

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Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

His poetry itself underwent significant changes in 1917. As a part of his therapy at Craiglockhart, Owen’s doctor, Arthur Brock, encouraged Owen to translate his experiences, specifically the experiences he relived in his dreams, into poetry. Sassoon, who was becoming influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, aided him here, showing Owen through example what poetry could do. Sassoon’s use of satire influenced Owen, who tried his hand at writing “in Sassoon’s style”. Further, the content of Owen’s verse was undeniably changed by his work with Sassoon. Sassoon’s emphasis on realism and “writing from experience” was contrary to Owen’s hitherto romantic-influenced style, as seen in his earlier sonnets. Owen was to take both Sassoon’s gritty realism and his own romantic notions and create a poetic synthesis that was both potent and sympathetic, as summarised by his famous phrase “the pity of war”. In this way, Owen’s poetry is quite distinctive, and he is, by many, considered a greater poet than Sassoon. Nonetheless, Sassoon contributed to Owen’s popularity by his strong promotion of his poetry, both before and after Owen’s death, and his editing was instrumental in the making of Owen as a poet.

Owen’s poems had the benefit of strong patronage, and it was a combination of Sassoon’s influence, support from Edith Sitwell, and the preparation of a new and fuller edition of the poems in 1931 by Edmund Blunden that ensured his popularity, coupled with a revival of interest in his poetry in the 1960s which plucked him out of a relatively exclusive readership into the public eye. Though he had plans for a volume of verse, for which he had written a “Preface”, he never saw his own work published apart from those poems he included in The Hydra, the magazine he edited at Craiglockhart War Hospital, and “Miners,” which was published in The Nation.

There were many other influences on Owen’s poetry, including his mother. His letters to her provide an insight into Owen’s life at the front, and the development of his philosophy regarding the war. Graphic details of the horror Owen witnessed were never spared. Owen’s experiences with religion also heavily influenced his poetry, notably in poems such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, in which the ceremony of a funeral is re-enacted not in a church, but on the battlefield itself, and “At a Calvary near the Ancre”, which comments on the Crucifixion of Christ. Owen’s experiences in war led him further to challenge his religious beliefs, claiming in his poem “Exposure” that “love of God seems dying”.

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In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was probably the result of Sassoon’s being sent back to England, after being shot in the head in an apparent “friendly fire” incident, and put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war. Owen saw it as his duty to add his voice to that of Sassoon, that the horrific realities of the war might continue to be told. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to “stab [him] in the leg” if he tried it. Aware of his attitude, Owen did not inform him of his action until he was once again in France.

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Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration. He is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery. There are memorials to Wilfred Owen at Gailly, Ors, Oswestry, Birkenhead (Central Library) and Shrewsbury.

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On 11 November 1985, Owen was one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. The inscription on the stone is taken from Owen’s “Preface” to his poems: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.” There is also a small museum dedicated to Owen and Sassoon at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, now a Napier University building.

The forester’s house in Ors where Owen spent his last night, Maison forestière de l’Ermitage, has been transformed by Turner Prize nominee Simon Patterson into an art installation and permanent memorial to Owen and his poetry, which opened to the public on 1 October 2011.

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Here’s a recipe from Picardy where Owen was killed and now rests in peace. Picardy is especially noted for terroir cuisine (cooking using local ingredients only). Maroilles (also known as Marolles) is a cow’s-milk cheese made in the regions of Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France. It derives its name from the village of Maroilles in the region in which it is still manufactured. The curd is shaped and salted before being removed from its mold and placed in a ventilated drying area for around ten days during which time a light coating of bacteria develops. The cheese is then brushed and washed and cellared for at least five weeks, though periods of up to four months are not uncommon. During this time it is turned and brushed at regular intervals to remove the natural white mold and to allow its red bacteria to change the rind from yellow to red.

For filet de veau au lard à la crème de maroilles a loin of veal is larded with bacon, baked, and then smothered in a sauce made from Maroilles and Picardy beer. Because this is a terroir dish you going to be hard put to make it at home — unless your home is in Picardy.

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Filet De Veau Au Lard À La Crème De Maroilles

Ingredients:

22 ozs/600 gm veal loin
10 slices Picardy bacon
½ cup/1 dl Picardy beer
7 ozs/200 gm of Maroilles cheese
3 ozs80 gm butter
1 cup/2 dl cream

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 250°F /(120 °C

Bard (wrap) the veal loin with slices of bacon.

Brown the barded loin on all sides in a heavy skillet. Place the loin in a baking dish and bake for 40 minutes.

Melt the maroilles with the beer in the skillet along with the veal and bacon juices. Add the cream plus  salt and pepper to taste.

Coat the bottom of a serving plate with the  maroilles sauce. Place the loin on top cut into thick slices (3 per person).  Serve with egg noodles or new potatoes plus crusty bread.

Jun 042013
 

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Roquefort_Caves  roquefort caves

Today is traditionally held to be the day that Roquefort cheese was first made accidentally in the year 1070 near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the south of France, when a young shepherd boy, eating his lunch of curds, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he set off to meet her. When he failed to catch her he returned home. Several months later he happened upon his abandoned, and now moldy, lunch and ate it out of pure hunger. It turned out to be delicious. Nice story. However, Roquefort is mentioned in literature as far back as 79, when Pliny the Elder remarked upon its rich flavor, and cheese making colanders have been discovered amongst the region’s prehistoric relics. Regardless of the date of invention, on June 4th 1411 Charles VI granted a monopoly for the ripening of the cheese to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

The mould (Penicillium roqueforti) which gives Roquefort its distinctive character is found in the soil of the local caves. Traditionally the cheese makers extracted it by leaving bread in the caves for six to eight weeks until it was consumed by the mold. The interior of the bread was then dried to produce a powder which was mixed with the cheese curds, or injected into the unripe cheeses. In modern times the mold is grown in a laboratory, which allows for greater consistency.

Roquefort is made entirely from the milk of the Lacaune, Manech and Basco-Béarnaise breeds of sheep. Prior to regulations of 1925, a small amount of cow’s or goat’s milk was sometimes added. Now it must be 100% ewe’s milk.  A total of around 4.5 liters (9.5 pints) of milk are required to make one kilogram (2.2 lbs) of Roquefort.

European law ensures that only those cheeses aged in the natural Cambalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort, as it has a protected designation of origin.  Regulations governing its production even within the designated region are very strict. These include:

•  All milk used must be delivered at least 20 days after lambing has taken place.
•  The sheep must be on pasture, whenever possible, in an area including most of Aveyron and parts of neighboring départements. At least 3/4 of the grain fed to the sheep must be grown in the same area
•  The milk must be whole, raw (not heated above 34 °C; 93.2 °F), and unfiltered except to remove macroscopic particles.
•  The addition of rennet must occur within 48 hours of milking.
•  The Penicillium roqueforti used in the production must be produced in France from the natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
•  The whole process of maturation, cutting, packaging and refrigeration of the cheese must take place in the commune of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.

We use the word “terroir” these days for such regulations, that is, food from a particular region has a unique taste by virtue of the soil that brings it forth.

Around 19,000 tons of Roquefort are produced annually (about 3 million cheeses), almost all of which is consumed within France where it is the second most popular cheese (after Comté). Spain is the largest importer with 1,000 tons annually.

Roquefort is an incredibly versatile cheese. I always have some in my refrigerator for cooking, or just as a snack on crackers.  You can crumble it into salads.  You can make a delectable sauce for steaks by melting Roquefort into heavy cream with a few chopped shallots.  This sauce also works well over pasta or raw oysters.  You can make a spread called Auld Alliance (celebrating historic treaties between Scotland and France – mostly to harass England), by pounding Roquefort to a paste and slowly adding Scotch whisky until the cheese will not absorb more.  Just about any recipe that uses cheese, such as quiche or soufflé, can be made with Roquefort.  Here’s a pureéd cauliflower and Roquefort soup recipe. The original was vegetarian, but I prefer chicken stock as the base.  For the vegetarian version, place the leftover trimmings from the cauliflower in a medium-sized saucepan with 2½ pints (1.5 litres) of water, and salt to taste. Bring it up to the boil and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Strain and discard the trimmings.

Cauliflower and Roquefort Soup

Ingredients

2½ pints (1.5 l) stock (chicken or vegetarian)
1 medium cauliflower
2 oz (50 g) Roquefort, crumbled into small pieces
2 bay leaves
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 large leek, trimmed, washed, and chopped
4 oz (110 g) potato, peeled and chopped into dice
2 tablespoons  crème fraîche, (with extra for serving)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
snipped chives for garnish

Instructions:

In large saucepan with a well-fitting lid, melt the butter over a gentle heat.

Add the onion, celery, leek and potato. Cover and let the vegetables gently sweat for 15 minutes. Keep the heat very low.

Add the stock and the bay leaves and bring it to a simmer.

Cut the cauliflower into florets and discard the larger stems. Add them to the stock, and simmer very gently for 20-25 minutes, until the cauliflower is completely tender. Do not cover the pot.

Remove the bay leaves, then purée the soup in a food processor or blender and process until  smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the crème fraîche and cheese and keep stirring until the cheese has melted and the soup is hot but not boiling.

Serve in hot bowls, garnished with a little more crème fraîche and chives.

Serves 4