May 202017
 

Today is the birthday (1799) of legendary French author Honoré de Balzac.  His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from an artisan family in Tarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 he set off for Paris with only a Louis coin in his pocket, intent on improving his social standing; by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King’s Council and a Freemason (he had also changed his name to the more noble sounding “Balzac,” his son later adding—without official recognition—the nobiliary particle: “de”). After the Reign of Terror (1793–94), François Balzac was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army. Balzac’s mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family of haberdashers in Paris. Her family’s wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was 18 at the time of the wedding, and François Balzac, 50

Honoré (named after Saint-Honoré of Amiens https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-honore-of-amiens/ ) was the second child born to the Balzacs. Exactly one year before, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. As an infant Balzac was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home. When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a distance from their parents. At age 10 Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for 7 years. His father intentionally gave him little spending money to try to instill in him a sense of a hardscrabble upbringing but it primarily served to make him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.

Balzac had difficulty adapting to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the “alcove”, a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students. (The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: “Remember M. Balzac? I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!”) His time alone, however, gave Balzac the opportunity to read voraciously.

Like Dickens (sometimes called the “English Balzac”), Balzac used scenes of his boyhood in his writing, especially La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. The narrator says : “He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books.”

Balzac often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a “sort of a coma.” In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River. In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous teachers: François Guizot, who later became Prime Minister, Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne who lectured on French and classical literature, and, his favorite, Victor Cousin, who strongly encouraged independent thinking.

After the Sorbonne Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the Law. For three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a family friend. During this time Balzac began to delve the vagaries of human behavior. In Le Notaire (1840), he wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees “the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code.”

In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but he had had enough of the Law. He despaired of being “a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that’s what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite.” In consequence he determined to become a writer.

Balzac’s work habits are legendary, he wrote from 1 am to 8 am every night and sometimes even longer. Balzac could write very rapidly; some of his novels, written with a quill, were composed at about thirty words per minute. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at 5 or 6 in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, drinking innumerable cups of strong black coffee. He would often work for 15 hours or more at a stretch, and claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only 3 hours of rest in the middle.

Balzac revised obsessively, covering printer’s proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense both for himself and the publisher. As a result, the finished product quite often was different from the original text.

Balzac died in Paris in 1850, 5 months after marrying Ewelina Hańska, widow of count Hańska, in Russia.  He had never enjoyed good health, but the journey to Russia to finalize his courtship with Ewelina (who was also being courted by Franz Lizst), and his persistent overeating, along with his generally poor personal habits, weakened his system fatally. He showed all the symptoms of heart failure in his final year.

The day he died he had been visited by Victor Hugo, who later served as a pallbearer and eulogist. Balzac is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. At his memorial service, Victor Hugo said, “Today we have people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius.” The funeral was attended by the literary elite of Paris”, including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils,[84] as well as representatives of the Légion d’honneur and other dignitaries. Later, Auguste Rodin created the Monument à Balzac in his honor, and featured him in several smaller busts.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.

First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.

Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

If you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again.

Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane.

The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.

And he, like many jaded people, had few pleasures left in life save good food and drink.

Cruelty and fear shake hands together. An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man’s entire existence.

Hatred is the vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all their littleness, and make it the pretext of base tyrannies.

After Balzac had closeted himself away for lengthy creative bursts, drinking coffee and eating only fruit and eggs, he would take a break and wolf down vast quantities of food. Once he asked his publisher, Monsieur Werdet, to lunch between writing bouts. According to the food historian Giles MacDonagh, he ate “a hundred Ostend oysters, 12 Pre-Sale mutton cutlets, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridges, a sole Normand, without counting hors d’oeuvres, entremets, fruits etc.”

Balzac sometimes gave dinner parties with a theme. Once he served a meal of nothing but onions: onion soup, his favorite onion puree, onion juice, onion fritters and onions with truffles. His idea, apparently, was to showcase the purgative properties of the vegetable. It worked. All his guests got sick. Maybe if you just make French onion soup you can avoid this fate. I’ve been making classic French onion soup since I was a novice cook, which, if made well, is superb. But you must get  it right. It takes time and patience. This is my recipe from memory which I have played with over the years. It makes about 8 servings, so I don’t make it very often these days. You really shouldn’t make small quantities.

French Onion Soup

Peel 10 sweet white onions, halve them, and finely slice them. Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy Dutch oven, over low heat and layer in the onion slices sprinkling salt between each layer. Let the onions sweat down, undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes.  After that, stir the onions occasionally until they take on a dark, even, mahogany color. This is the absolutely critical step, and requires patience and attentiveness. You don’t want any of the onions to burn but they must be dark brown. Eventually the onions will reduce to about 2 cups. Ignore cookbooks that say you can brown the onions in 10 minutes or so. This is complete nonsense. Slowly cooked onions take an hour (sometimes longer) to reach this stage.

Add a cup (or more) of dry white wine to cover the onions and turn the heat to high. Reduce the wine to a syrup, then add 5 cups of beef consommé. See the HINTS tab for my recipes. You want this consommé to be of the highest quality. Also add a cup of good quality farm apple cider, and a bouquet garni (your choice of herbs; I use thyme, parsley, marjoram, and bay leaf). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat the soup next day when ready to serve.

Heat the broiler. Cut day old baguette slices into rounds to fit the  mouths of oven-safe soup crocks. Very lightly toast the bread under the broiler on one side only.

Add a little cognac to the soup, and ladle it into the crocks, leaving space for the bread. Place the bread, toasted side down, on top of the soup and spread it with grated Gruyère. Place the crocks under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and toasted.

May 182017
 

Today is the birthday (1919) of Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE, prima ballerina assoluta of the Royal Ballet, for whom she danced her entire career. Fonteyn was born Margaret Evelyn Hookham in Reigate, Surrey. Her father was a British engineer, and her mother was the daughter of Brazilian industrialist Antonio Fontes. Very early in her career Margaret took the name by which she was known all her life, Margot Fonteyn, with the surname derived from “Fontes,” also adopted by her brother—Portuguese “fonte” is “fountain” in modern English, “fonteyn” in Middle English. Her later formal married name was Margot Fonteyn de Arias in the Spanish-language tradition.

At 4 years of age her mother signed her and her elder brother up for ballet classes. At age 8, Margot travelled to China with her mother and father, who had taken employment with a tobacco company there while her brother Felix remained at his school. For six years Margot lived in TianJin, then in Shanghai, where she studied ballet with Russian émigré teacher George Goncharov. Her mother took her back to London when she was 14, to pursue a ballet career. Her father continued on in Shanghai and was interned during World War II by the invading Japanese.

In 1933 Fonteyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet School, the predecessor of today’s Royal Ballet School, training under the direction of Ninette de Valois and such teachers as Olga Preobrajenska and Mathilde Kschessinska [Krzesinska]. After starting with the Vic-Wells Ballet, she rose quickly through the ranks of the company. By 1939 Fonteyn had performed principal roles in Giselle, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty and was appointed prima ballerina. She was most noted in the ballets of Frederick Ashton, including Ondine, Daphnis and Chloe, and Sylvia. She was especially renowned for her portrayal of Aurora in Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Fonteyn also worked with choreographer Roland Petit and, later in life, Martha Graham. When the Royal Ballet toured the United States in 1949, Fonteyn instantly became a celebrity for her performances.

In the 1940s she and Robert Helpmann formed a very successful dance partnership, and they toured together for several years. In the 1950s she danced regularly with Michael Somes. In 1955, the year in which Fonteyn married a Panamanian diplomat, they danced together in the first color telecast of a ballet, NBC’s production of The Sleeping Beauty. In 1958 they appeared together in the first British televised version of The Nutcracker.

Fonteyn began her greatest artistic partnership at a time when many people, including the head of the Royal Ballet, Ninette de Valois, thought she was about to retire. In 1961 Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West, and on 21 February 1962 he and Fonteyn first performed together in Giselle. She was 42 and he was 24. Their performance was a great success; during the curtain calls Nureyev dropped to his knees and kissed Fonteyn’s hand. They created an on-and-offstage partnership that lasted until her retirement in 1979 at age 61, and were lifelong friends. Fonteyn and Nureyev became known for inspiring repeated frenzied curtain calls and bouquet tosses. Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed Marguerite and Armand for them, which no other couple danced until the 21st century. They debuted Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, although MacMillan had conceived the ballet for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable. Fonteyn and Nureyev appeared together in the filmed versions of MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, and the pas de deux from Le Corsaire.

Despite differences in background and temperament, and a 19-year gap in ages, Nureyev and Fonteyn became close lifelong friends and were famously loyal to each other. Fonteyn would not approve an unflattering photograph of Nureyev. He said about her:

“At the end of ‘Lac des Cygnes’ when she left the stage in her great white tutu I would have followed her to the end of the world.”

The extent of their physical relationship remains unclear. Nureyev said that they had one, while Fonteyn denied it. Her biographer Meredith Daneman agreed with Nureyev. The pair remained close even after she retired to a Panama cattle farm with her husband. She talked with Nureyev by phone several times a week, although her farmhouse did not have a telephone. When she had to be treated for cancer, he paid many of her medical bills and visited her often, despite his busy schedule as a performer and choreographer. In a documentary about Fonteyn, Nureyev said that they danced with “one body, one soul” and that Margot was “all he had, only her.”

In 1955 Fonteyn married Dr Roberto Arias, a Panamanian diplomat to London. Their marriage was initially rocky because of his infidelities. She was arrested in Panama when helping Arias to attempt a coup d’état against the government in 1959. Confidential British government files released in 2010 showed that Fonteyn knew of and had some involvement in the coup attempt. In 1964 a rival Panamanian politician shot Arias, leaving him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.

After her retirement she spent all her time in Panama, and was close to her husband and his children from an earlier marriage. She had no pension, and had spent all her savings looking after her husband.[6] Shortly before her husband’s death, in 1989, Fonteyn was diagnosed with cancer, and she died on 21 February 1991 in a hospital in Panama City, Panama, aged 71.

Reigate in particular, where Fonteyn was born, and Surrey in general, is pretty much a wasteland when it comes to old traditional recipes. This may be due to the fact that Surrey is little more than a suburb of London – Reigate certainly, these days. Yet all is not lost. Surrey tea rooms are noted now, and have been for over a century, for the classic English afternoon tea “cake” (or tart), maids of honour. Tradition has it that they were first baked by a maid of honour at Henry VIII’s court, some versions even suggesting the maid in question was Anne Boleyn. Legend also has it that Henry prized them so much that he kept the recipe locked away. Who knows? What we do know is that you will find them served in Kew, Richmond, and other landmark towns in Surrey.  There are something like a custard cheesecake inside a pastry shell.Sometimes you will find recipes for them that are cake and jam inside a pastry shell. These are not traditional. A tea room in Kew in Surrey, “The Original Maids of Honour,” dates back to the 18th Century and was set up specifically to sell these tarts. Dainty and royal morsels for a world renowned ballerina.

Surrey Maids of Honour

Ingredients

Pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter
⅓ cup vegetable shortening
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp lemon juice
⅛ tsp rose water or orange flower water (optional)
1 pinch salt

Custard Filling

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
½ cup heavy cream, plus 2 tbsp
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ cup ground almonds
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp finely minced fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp rose water or orange flower water (optional)
fresh ground nutmeg

powdered sugar (for dusting)
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Dice the butter. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add in the diced butter, plus very small scoops (teaspoon sized) of shortening. Mix together, cover, and place the bowl in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

In another bowl, place the eggs, lemon juice, rosewater (or orange-flower water), and a pinch of salt and put in the refrigerator.

Using a food processor pulse the chilled fats and flour until the mix is coarse and crumbly (8 to 10 pulses). Do not over process. Slowly add the liquids (while pulsing more) until the pastry has almost come together. Scoop out the pastry on to a floured surface and knead until it is completely combined. Only a few times should be needed. Cut into two discs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, cut lengthwise down the vanilla bean with the tip of a sharp knife. Put the vanilla bean and cream into a saucepan, and heat to just below boiling over medium heat. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from the heat. Take out the bean and scrape the seeds into the cream (or simply use vanilla extract). Add the butter, sugar, ground almonds, egg, lemon zest and juice, and the rosewater (or orange-flower water), stirring well to combine. Let stand for about 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 425˚F

Grease very well 2 12-hole tart or muffin pans. If you have only one (as I do now), you’ll have to make two batches, each as follows. Roll out half the pastry, cut out 12 rounds with a 3” round cutter, and carefully press them into the tart pan. Spoon half the filling into the pastry cases. Leave about 1 inch below the rim because the custard rises as it bakes. Dust lightly with fresh nutmeg and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the custard is golden and puffy.

Let the tarts sit in the pan for a few minutes before unmolding on to a wire rack to cool. Dust the tops with powdered sugar.

You can leave the tarts to cool a little before serving, but they are best eaten still slightly warm.

May 172017
 

On this date in 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais found among some pieces of rock that had been retrieved from the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece 2 years earlier, one piece of rock that had a gear wheel embedded in it. Stais initially believed it was an astronomical clock, but most scholars at the time considered the device to be an anachronism of some sort, too complex to have been constructed during the same period as the other pieces that had been discovered with it (dated around the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE). Nope !! What is now called the Antikythera mechanism is, in fact, an ancient Greek analogue computer and orrery used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes, as well as a four-year cycle of athletic games that was similar, but not identical, to an Olympiad, the cycle of the ancient Olympic Games.  Nothing like it would re-emerge in Europe for 15 centuries. There is so much about the ancient world that remains a mystery (Stonehenge, the Pyramids, etc.).

The Antikythera mechanism was found to be housed in a 340 mm (13 in) × 180 mm (7.1 in) × 90 mm (3.5 in) wooden box but full analysis of its form and uses has only recently been fully performed.  In fact after Stais discovered it, it was ignored for 50 years, but then gradually scientists of various stripes, including historians of science, looked into it, and research into the mechanism is ongoing. Derek J. de Solla Price of Yale became interested in it in 1951, and in 1971, both Price and Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos made X-ray and gamma-ray images of the 82 fragments.

The mechanism is clearly a complex clockwork device composed of at least 30 meshing bronze gears. Using modern computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning, a team led by Mike Edmunds and Tony Freeth at Cardiff University were able to look inside fragments of the crust-encased mechanism and read the faintest inscriptions that once covered the outer casing of the machine. Detailed imaging of the mechanism suggests it dates back to around 150-100 BCE and had 37 gear wheels enabling it to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The motion, known as the first lunar anomaly, was first described by the astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes in the 2nd century BCE, and so it’s possible that he was consulted in the machine’s construction. Its remains were found as one lump later separated into three main fragments, which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation work. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 140 mm (5.5 in) in diameter and originally had 224 teeth.

It is not known how the mechanism came to be on the sunken cargo ship, but it has been suggested that it was being taken from Rhodes to Rome, together with other looted treasure, to support a triumphal parade being staged by Julius Caesar. The mechanism is not generally referred to as the first known analogue computer, and the quality and complexity of the mechanism’s manufacture suggests it has undiscovered predecessors made during the Hellenistic period.

In 1974, Price concluded from the gear settings and inscriptions on the mechanism’s faces that it was made about 87 BCE and lost only a few years later. Jacques Cousteau and associates visited the wreck in 1976 and recovered coins dated to between 76 and 67 BCE. Though its advanced state of corrosion has made it impossible to perform an accurate compositional analysis, it is believed the device was made of a low-tin bronze alloy (of approximately 95% copper, 5% tin). All its instructions are written in Koine Greek, and the consensus among scholars is that the mechanism was made in the Greek-speaking world.

In 2008, continued research by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project suggested the concept for the mechanism may have originated in the colonies of Corinth, since they identified the calendar on the Metonic Spiral as coming from Corinth or one of its colonies in Northwest Greece or Sicily. Syracuse was a colony of Corinth and the home of Archimedes, which, so the Antikythera Mechanism Research project argued in 2008, might imply a connection with the school of Archimedes. But the ship carrying the device also contained vases in the style common in Rhodes of the time, leading to a hypothesis that the device was constructed at an academy founded by the Stoic philosopher Posidonius on that island. Rhodes was busy trading port in antiquity, and also a center of astronomy and mechanical engineering, home to the astronomer Hipparchus, active from about 140 BCE to 120 BCE. That the mechanism uses Hipparchus’s theory for the motion of the moon suggests the possibility he may have designed, or at least worked on it. Finally, the Rhodian hypothesis gains further support by the recent decipherment of text on the dial referring to the dating (every 4 years) of the relatively minor Halieia games of Rhodesl. In addition, it has recently been argued that the astronomical events on the parapegma (almanac plate) of the Antikythera Mechanism work best for latitudes in the range of 33.3-37.0 degrees north. Rhodes is located between the latitudes of 35.5 and 36.25 degrees north.

Using analysis of existing fragments various attempts have been made on paper, and in metal, to reconstruct a working model of the mechanism.

Some of the earliest Greek recipes extant mention the use of cheese. In book 9 of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus meets the Cyclops Polyphemus in cave who, on returning with his sheep and goats from the fields, milks them and makes cheese with the milk. Feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk, so some food historians conjecture that feta or something akin may date from the 8th century BCE (Homer’s era).

One of the oldest Greek recipes, although hard to interpret accurately, calls for fish baked with cheese and herbs.  I don’t have the necessary ingredients to hand to experiment at the moment, and recipes for baked or fried fish and feta that I have available, all call for New World ingredients such as tomatoes and zucchini. My suggestion would be to coat a roasting pan with olive oil, lay in some Mediterranean fish fillets, and top them with crumbled feta mixed with either yoghurt or breadcrumbs seasoned with dill, salt and pepper. Garlic and onions would make good seasonings as well. Bake at 375˚F for 20 to 25 minutes and serve with boiled potatoes and a green salad.

If you don’t want to be quite so adventurous, fill halved pitas with a mix of feta, chives and herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and grill briefly until the pitas are golden and the feta is soft.

May 162017
 

On this date in 1920 Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint. Her feast day is May 30th and you can read all about her exploits and trial here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/joan-of-arc/ .  Now I just want to focus on the fact that it took nearly 500 years for the Catholic church to declare her a saint. I’ll begin by saying that I find the whole process of declaring a person a saint extremely silly. I’m not bothered so much by the question of whether she is a saint or not, but rather by the fact that it took the church so long. I remember reading about her for history lessons in primary school. My textbook ended with the terse sentence after reporting her death: “. . . 500 years later she was made a saint.” Somebody in the class asked why it took so long, and my teacher said simply that the process took a long time. Nonsense. Pope John Paul II will probably be canonized in my lifetime; many people have been declared saints, throughout history, shortly after their deaths. Why did it take so long?

Joan was put on trial by an Inquisitorial court that was heavily influenced by the English, leading to her execution in the marketplace of Rouen in 1431. When the French retook Rouen in 1449, a series of investigations were launched. Her now-widowed mother Isabelle Romée and Joan’s brothers Jéan and Pierre, who were with Joan at the Siege of Orleans, petitioned Pope Nicholas V to reopen her case. The formal appeal was conducted in 1455 by Jean Bréhal, Inquisitor-General of France, under the aegis of Pope Callixtus III. Isabelle addressed the opening session of the appellate trial at Notre Dame with an impassioned plea to clear her daughter’s name. Joan was exonerated on July 7, 1456, with Bréhal’s summary of case evidence describing her as a martyr who had been executed by a court which itself had violated Church law.  In 1457, Callixtus excommunicated the now-deceased Bishop Pierre Cauchon for his persecution and condemnation of Joan.

The city of Orléans had commemorated her death each year beginning in 1432, and from 1435 onward performed a religious play centered on the lifting of the siege. The play represented her as a divinely-sent savior guided by angels. In 1452, during one of the postwar investigations into her execution, Cardinal d’Estouteville declared that this play would merit qualification as a pilgrimage site by which attendees could gain an indulgence. Not long after the appeal, Pope Pius II wrote an approving piece about her in his memoirs.

Joan was used a symbol of the Catholic League, a group organized to fight against Protestant groups during the Wars of Religion in France. An anonymous author wrote a biography of Joan’s life, stating that it was compiled “By order of the King, Louis XII of that name” in around 1500.

Joan’s cult of personality was opposed by the leaders of the French Revolution because she was a devout Catholic who had served the monarchy. They banned the yearly celebration of the lifting of the siege of Orleans, and Joan’s relics, including her sword and banner, were destroyed. A statue of Joan erected by the people of Orléans in 1571 (to replace one destroyed by Protestants in 1568) was melted down and made into a cannon. Recognizing he could use Joan for his nationalist purposes, Napoleon allowed Orléans to resume its yearly celebration of the lifting of the siege, commissioned Augustin Dupré to strike a commemorative coin, and had Jean-Antoine Chaptal inform the mayor of Orléans that he approved of a resolution by the municipal council.

Although Nicolas Lenglet Du Fresnoy and Clément Charles François de Laverdy are credited with the first full-length biographies of Joan, several English authors ironically sparked a movement which lead to her canonization. Harvard University English literature professor Herschel Baker noted in his introduction to Henry VI for The Riverside Shakespeare how appalled William Warburton was by the depiction of Joan in Henry VI, Part 1, and that Edmond Malone sought in “Dissertation on the Three Parts of Henry VI” (1787) to prove Shakespeare had no hand in its authorship (1974; p. 587). Charles Lamb chided Samuel Taylor Coleridge for reducing Joan to “a pot girl” in the first drafts of The Destiny of Nations, initially part of Robert Southey’s Joan of Arc. She was the subject of essays by Lord Mahon for The Quarterly Review, and by Thomas De Quincey for Tait’s.

As Joan found her way further into popular culture, the French Navy dedicated four vessels to her: a 52-gun frigate (1820); a 42-gun frigate (1852), an ironclad corvette warship (1867), and an armored cruiser (1899). Philippe-Alexandre Le Brun de Charmettes’s biography (1817), and Jules Quicherat’s account of her trial and rehabilitation (1841-1849) seemed to have inspired canonization efforts in France. In 1869, Bishop Félix Dupanloup and 11 other bishops petitioned Pope Pius IX to have her canonized, but the Franco-Prussian War postponed further action. In 1874, depositions began to be collected, received by Cardinal Luigi Bilio in 1876 (same year as Henri-Alexandre Wallon’s biography). Dupanloup’s successor, Bishop Pierre-Hector Coullié, directed an inquest to authenticate her acts and testimony from her trial and rehabilitation. On January 27, 1894, the Curia (Cardinals Benedetto Aloisi-Masella, Angelo Bianchi, Benoît-Marie Langénieux, Luigi Macchi, Camillo Mazzella, Paul Melchers, Mario Mocenni, Lucido Parocchi, Fulco Luigi Ruffo-Scilla, and Isidoro Verga) voted unanimously that Pope Leo XIII sign the Commissio Introductionis Causæ Servæ Dei Joannæ d’Arc, which he did that afternoon.

However, the path to sainthood did not go smoothly. On August 20, 1902, the Papal consistory rejected adding Joan to the Calendar of saints, stating: she launched the assault on Paris on the birthday of Mary, mother of Jesus; her capture (“proof” her claim that she was sent by God was false); her attempts to escape from prison; her abjure after being threatened with death; and doubts of her purity. On November 17, 1903, the Sacred Congregation of Rites met to discuss Joan’s cause at the behest of Pope Pius X. A decree proclaiming Joan’s heroic virtue was issued on January 6, 1904 by Cardinal Serafino Cretoni, and Pius proclaimed her venerable on January 8. The Decree of the Three Miracles was issued on December 13, 1908, and The Decree of Beatification was read five days later, which was issued formally by the Congregation of Rites on January 24, 1909. The Beatification ceremony was held on April 18, 1909.

In the subsequent fighting during World War I, French troops carried her image into battle with them. During one battle, they interpreted a German searchlight image projected on to low-lying clouds as an appearance by Joan, which bolstered their morale greatly. Her canonization Mass was held on May 16, 1920. Over 60,000 people attended the ceremony, including 140 descendants of Joan’s family.

Joan of Arc was born in the village of Domrémy, then in the French part of the duchy of Bar, or Barrois mouvant, located west of the Meuse. The part of the duchy lying east of the Meuse was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The duchy of Bar later became part of the province of Lorraine. The village of Domrémy was renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle in honor of Joan. Unfortunately that general region is now famous for chocolate which would not be appropriate to celebrate a French woman who was not aware that the Americas (origin of chocolate) existed. Instead here’s a 15th century French recipe for a pie in the shape of a castle – to remind us how Joan of Arc assisted in storming castles. I’ve always fancied doing something like this but the closest I came was making a castle out of gingerbread. Meat pies in the shape of castles were quite popular from the Middle Ages up to the late 19th century. They were often filled with what we would think of as mincemeat, that is, meat heavily laced with sugar, fruit, and brandy. They were well known gifts of the nobility.

This recipe is from Du fait de cuisine by Maistre Chiquart translated by Elizabeth Cook

For a lofty entremet, that is a castle, there should be made for its base a fair large litter to be carried by four men, and in the said litter must be four towers to be put in each quarter of the said litter, and each tower should be fortified and machicolated; and each tower has crossbowmen and archers to defend the said fortress, and also in each tower is a candle or wax torch to illuminate; and they bear branches of all trees bearing all manner of flowers and fruit, and on the said branches all manner of birds. And in the lower court will be at the foot of each tower: in one of the towers, a boar’s head armed and endored spitting fire; elsewhere a great pike, and this pike is cooked in three ways: the part of the pike toward the tail is fried, the middle part is boiled, and the head part is roasted on the grill; and the said pike is sitting at the foot of the other tower looking out from the beast spitting fire. One should take note of the sauces of the said pike with which it should be eaten, that is: the fried with oranges, the boiled with a good green sauce which should be made sour with a little vinegar, and the roast of the said pike should be eaten with green verjuice made of sorrel. At the foot of the other tower an endored piglet looking out and spitting fire; and at the foot of the other tower a swan which has been skinned and reclothed, also spitting fire. And in the middle of the four towers in the lower court a fountain of Love, from which fountain there should flow by a spout rosewater and clear wine; and above the said fountain are cages with doves and all flying birds. And on the heights of the said castle are standards, banners, and pennons; and beside the said fountain is a peacock which has been skinned and reclothed. And for this, I Chiquart have said before, I would like to teach to the said master who is to make it the art of the said peacock, and this to do courtesy and honor to his lord and master, that is to take a large fat goose, and spit it well and put it to roast well and cleanly and gaily [quickly?], and to recloth it in the plumage of the peacock and put it in the place where the peacock should be set, next to the fountain of love, with the wings extended; and make the tail spread, and to hold the neck raised high, as if it were alive, put a stick of wood inside the said neck which will make it hold straight. And for this the said cook must not flay the said peacock, but take the pinions to put on the goose and take the skin of the rump of the peacock where the feathers are held all together; and when it goes onto the goose, to make good skewers to make the said goose spread its tail as properly as the peacock if it were alive.

And on the battlements of the lower court should be chickens skinned and reclothed and endored, and endored hedgehogs, and endored apples made of meat, Spanish pots made of meat all endored; molded figures, that is: hares, brachets, deer, boars, the hunters with their horns, partridge, crayfish, dolphin, peas all molded and beans made all of molded meat. The curtains of the said castle which go all around the castle, should be so large hanging to the ground that one cannot see the bearers of the said castle. And the said curtains from the ground to two feet up should be painted with waves of water and large sea flowers; and among the said waves should be painted all sorts of fish, and above the said waters and waves should be galleys and ships full of people armed in all ways so that it seems they come to attack the said fortress and castle of Love, which appears to be on a great rock in the sea, of which people some are archers, crossbowmen, others are furnished with lances, others with ladders to lean against the said fortress, these climbing and those descending and pushing the others off, these divided and other things, these hard pressed and those in retreat, these being killed by arrows and those by stones.

And within the curtains should be three or four young children playing very well, one a rebec, another a lute, psaltery, or harp, and others who have good voices to sing appropriate, sweet, and pleasant songs so that one is aware that these are sirens in the sea by their clear singing.

And the peacock which is mentioned above, which by the advice of me, Chyquart, is the result of artifice, take it and clean it very well and then dry it well and properly, and spit it and put it to roast; and when it is nearly roasted stud it with good whole cloves well and properly; and if the surface is spoiled put it to roast again. And then let your lord know about your trick with the peacock and he can then arrange for what he wants done.

May 092017
 

On this date in 1092 Lincoln Cathedral or the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, and sometimes St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lincoln was consecrated. Building commenced in 1088 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period.  This reminds us that for centuries until modern times (with perhaps the exception of St Patrick’s cathedral in New York) cathedrals were considered works-in-progress, or complex buildings that could be altered at will, rather than structures that were definitively “finished.” Lincoln cathedral was designated as  the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549), replacing the Great Pyramid of Giza which had held that title (in theory if not in practice) since antiquity. The central spire collapsed in 1549 and was not rebuilt – thus causing the cathedral to lose the title. The cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor area) after St Paul’s and York Minster. It is held in high regard by historians of architecture with John Ruskin writing: “I have always held… that the cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.”

Remigius de Fécamp, the first Bishop of Lincoln, moved the episcopal seat some time between 1072 and 1092. Up until then St. Mary’s Church in Stow was considered to be the “mother church” of Lincolnshire (although it was not a cathedral, because the seat of the diocese was at Dorchester Abbey in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire). However, Lincoln was more central to a diocese that stretched from the Thames to the Humber. Bishop Remigius built the first Lincoln Cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092 and then dying on 7 May of that year, two days before it was consecrated.

In 1141, the timber roofing was destroyed in a fire. Bishop Alexander rebuilt and expanded the cathedral, but it was mostly destroyed by an earthquake about forty years later, in 1185 (dated by the British Geological Survey as occurring 15 April 1185). The earthquake was one of the largest felt in the UK. After the earthquake, a new bishop was appointed. He was Hugh de Burgundy of Avalon who became known as St Hugh of Lincoln. He began a massive rebuilding and expansion program. Rebuilding began with the choir (St Hugh’s Choir) and the eastern transepts between 1192 and 1210. The central nave was then built in the Early English Gothic style, employing pointed arches, flying buttresses, and ribbed vaulting. This allowed support for incorporating larger windows. There are thirteen bells in the south-west tower, two in the north-west tower, and five in the central tower (including Great Tom). Accompanying the cathedral’s large bell, Great Tom of Lincoln, is a quarter-hour striking clock. The clock was installed in the early 19th century.

 

The two large stained glass rose windows, the matching Dean’s Eye and Bishop’s Eye, were added to the cathedral during the late Middle Ages. The former, the Dean’s Eye in the north transept dates from the 1192 rebuild begun by St Hugh, finally being completed in 1235. The latter, the Bishop’s eye, in the south transept was reconstructed a hundred years later in 1330. A contemporary record, “The Metrical Life of St Hugh”, refers to the meaning of these two windows (one on the dark, north, side and the other on the light, south, side of the building):

For north represents the devil, and south the Holy Spirit and it is in these directions that the two eyes look. The bishop faces the south in order to invite in and the dean the north in order to shun; the one takes care to be saved, the other takes care not to perish. With these Eyes the cathedral’s face is on watch for the candelabra of Heaven and the darkness of Lethe (oblivion).

After the additions of the Dean’s eye and other major Gothic additions it is believed some mistakes in the support of the tower occurred, for in 1237 the main tower collapsed. A new tower was soon started and in 1255 the Cathedral petitioned Henry III to allow them to take down part of the town wall to enlarge and expand the Cathedral, including the rebuilding of the central tower and spire. They replaced the small rounded chapels (built at the time of St Hugh) with a larger east end to the cathedral. This was to handle the increasing number of pilgrims to the Cathedral, who came to worship at the shrine of Hugh of Lincoln.

Between 1307 and 1311 the central tower was raised to its present height of 271 feet (83 m). The western towers and front of the cathedral were also improved and heightened. At this time, a tall lead-encased wooden spire topped the central tower but was blown down in a storm in 1549. With its spire, the tower reputedly reached a height of 525 feet (160 m).

One of the most well-known stone carvings within the cathedral is the Lincoln Imp. There are several variations of the legend surrounding the figure. According to 14th-century legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on Earth. After causing mayhem elsewhere in Northern England the two imps headed to Lincoln Cathedral, where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered them to stop. One of the imps sat on top of a stone pillar and started throwing rocks at the angel whilst the other cowered under the broken tables and chairs. The angel turned the first imp to stone, allowing the second imp to escape.

Lincolnshire is well known for its pork products including pork pies, pork sausages, and haslet which I mention here: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-kindness-day/  The chief flavoring for these pork dishes that gives them a distinctively Lincolnshire air is fresh sage.  Let’s turn instead to Lincolnshire plum bread, which once was a Christmas specialty but now can be found throughout the year, and well beyond the confines of Lincolnshire. I like it served toasted with a little butter, but in Lincolnshire it is common to eat plum bread warm in slices with some sharp cheese. Cooks vary as to spices used. Some add allspice or cloves or mixed spice. It’s up to you.

Lincolnshire Plum Bread

Ingredients

2  black tea bags
½ cup dried currants
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup milk, heated to 115°
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Instructions

Steep the tea bags in 1 ½ cups of boiling water for 10 minutes in a mixing bowl. Remove the tea bags and add the currants and raisins to the tea. Let them sit for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Combine the milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let it sit until foamy (about 5 to 10 minutes). Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth. Add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and mix on medium speed until a dough forms. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for 4 minutes. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing until the butter is incorporated after each addition, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth. Add the currants and raisins, and mix until evenly incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a 9″ x 5″ x 2½” loaf pan and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size (about 1½ hours). Check after about 1 hour because the rising is affected by many variables. Use the 2 second test. Press on the dough gently. If it springs back slowly let it rise a little longer. When it springs back in 2 seconds it is ready.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Bake the loaf until it  is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Let the loaf cool completely before slicing and serving.

 

May 082017
 

Today is the birthday of Edward Gibbon FRS, English historian famous for The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its open criticism of organized religion. Gibbon traces the trajectory of Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. The work covers the history, from 98 to 1590, of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity and then of the Roman State Church, and the history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first “modern historian of ancient Rome”

According to Gibbon, the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens. They had become weak, outsourcing their duty to defend their empire to barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans, he believed, were unwilling to live a tougher, military lifestyle. Furthermore, Gibbon argued that Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference to the present among Roman citizens, thus sapping their desire to sacrifice for a larger purpose. He also believed that Christianity’s comparative pacifism tended to hamper the traditional Roman martial spirit. Finally, like other Enlightenment thinkers and British citizens of the age steeped in institutional anti-Catholicism, Gibbon held in contempt the Middle Ages as a priest-ridden, superstitious Dark Age. It was not until his own era, the “Age of Reason,” with its emphasis on rational thought, he believed, that human history could resume its progress.

He compared the reigns of Diocletian (284–305) and Charles V (1519–1556), noting some similarities. Both, for example, were plagued by continual war and compelled to excessive taxation to fund wars. We might do well to compare these two reigns with the US of our own times.

Gibbon’s style is frequently distinguished by an ironically detached and somewhat dispassionate yet critical tone. He occasionally lapses into moralization and aphorism. He is so eminently quotable:

History is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortune of mankind.

If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery [of gunpowder] with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

The five marks of the Roman decaying culture:
Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;
Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;
Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;
Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;
Increased demand to live off the state.

 I make it a point never to argue with people for whose opinion I have no respect.

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.

Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.

I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.

The history of empires is the history of human misery.

The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.

Gibbon succumbed, as did many writers of his age (and later), to the debatable notion that a culture’s base temperaments are heavily influenced by the foods they eat:

THE CORN, or even the rice, which constitutes the ordinary and wholesome food of a civilized people, can be obtained only by the patient toil of the husbandman. Some of the happy savages, who dwell between the tropics, are plentifully nourished by the liberality of nature; but in the climates of the north, a nation of shepherds is reduced to their flocks and herds. The skilful practitioners of the medical art will determine (if they are able to determine) how far the temper of the human mind may be affected by the use of animal, or of vegetable, food; and whether the common association of carnivorous and cruel deserves to be considered in any other light, than that of an innocent, perhaps a salutary, prejudice of humanity. Yet if it be true that the sentiment of compassion is imperceptibly weakened by the sight and practice of domestic cruelty, we may observe that the horrid objects which are disguised by the arts of European refinement are exhibited in their naked and most disgusting simplicity in the tent of a Tartarian shepherd. The ox, or the sheep, are slaughtered by the same hand from which they were accustomed to receive their daily food; and the bleeding limbs are served, with very little preparation, on the table of their unfeeling murderer.

Anthropologists and archeologists (including myself) have long argued that the people who herd (and slaughter) animals are the ones to fear, over the long run, more than the farmers. I don’t believe it’s so much a matter of diet as of lifestyle. Herders are mobile whereas farmers are sedentary. Farmers, therefore, are more prone to armies of defense, whereas herders can be actively aggressive. Who are the warrior heroes of the Hebrew Bible? Abraham, David etc. – all herders. Of course, this is grossly simplistic, and things change over time, especially with the rise of empires.  But it does give me a segue into a recipe for the day.

I’ll resort to Hannah Glasse for an 18th century recipe, and I’ll choose a rice dish to favor Gibbon’s notion of a peaceable diet. I used to be very fond of rice in broth (my daily starter on board an Italian ship going from Australia to England), but Glasse’s rice soup is closer to rice pudding than to soup. (Be careful of the long “s” – which ignorant people mistake for “f”).

To make a rice ſoup.

TAKE two quarts of water, a pound of rice, a little cinnamon; cover it cloſe, and let it ſimmer very ſoftly till the rice is quite tender: take out the cinnamon, then ſweeten it to your palate, grate half a nutmeg, and let it ſtand till it is cold; then beat up the yolks of three eggs, with half a pint of white wine, mix them very well, then ſtir them into the rice, ſet them on a ſlow fire, and keep ſtirring all the time for fear of curdling. When it is of a good thickneſs, and boils, take it up. Keep ſtirring it till you put it into your diſh.

If you’re more in the mood for conquering Rome, have a steak.

May 052017
 

On this date in 1809, Mary Dixon Kies (1752 – 1837) was granted a patent for a new technique of weaving straw with silk and thread to make hats, signed by President James Madison. Most historians say that she was the first American woman to receive a patent, however others state that Hannah Slater was the first to file for a patent as early as 1793. Slater supposedly invented a method of producing cotton sewing thread. Disentangling the puzzle is impossible at this point because the US Patent Office was consumed by fire in 1836 destroying all the relevant documents.

Mary’s father, John Dixon, was a farmer born in 1679 in Ireland. Her mother, Janet Kennedy, was John Dixon’s third wife. Mary Dixon was born in Killingly, Connecticut on March 21, 1752. She married Isaac Pike I, and in 1770 they had a son, Isaac Pike II. After his death she married John Kies (1750–1813) who died on August 18, 1813 at age 63. She then lived with her second son, Daniel Kies, in Brooklyn, New York, until her death at age 85 in 1837.

Because of the Napoleonic Wars resulting in the constant threats on US merchant ships, the United States placed an embargo in 1807 on all trade with France and Great Britain, creating a shortage of all kinds of goods imported from Europe including millinery. The straw-weaving industry filled the gap. There were over $500,000 ($9 million in today’s money) worth of straw bonnets produced in Massachusetts alone in 1810.

Mary Kies was not the first woman in the US to innovate in hat-making. In 1798, New Englander Betsy Metcalf invented a method of braiding straw. Her method became very popular, and she employed many women and girls to make her hats. The method created a new industry for girls and women because the straw bonnets could be made at home from local resources, meaning that the women and girls could do work for themselves. Betsy Metcalf can thus be credited with starting the US straw-hat industry. Under the Patent Act of 1790 she could have sought a patent, but like most women at the time, who could not legally hold property, she chose not to. Mary Kies, did apply for a patent, however it’s not clear that she profited from it. Her idea differed from Metcalf’s in that she used thread in the weaving process. First Lady, Dolly Madison, was so pleased by Kies’ innovation that she sent a personal letter applauding her.

It is claimed that Kies’ technique proved valuable in making cost-effective work bonnets, but I can’t find any solid evidence to support this claim. Rather it appears that she did not profit much from her invention and she died in 1837 dependent on her son.

I’ve mentioned Amelia Simmons’ cookbook, American Cookery before because it was the first cookbook written and published in the United States. Since it was published in Connecticut in 1798 is a fitting source for us. The whole first half of the book is taken up with a discourse on various ingredients: flesh, fish fowl, vegetables, fruits, herbs, you name it. The recipes are terse but reasonably easy to follow. This one for foot pie caught my attention because it seems so bizarre. It reminds us that in the days before refrigeration people were a bit cavalier with storing things.

Minced Pies. A Foot Pie.

Scald neets feet, and clean well, (grass fed are best) put them into a large vessel of cold water, which change daily during a week, then boil the feet till tender, and take away the bones, when cold, chop fine, to every four pound minced meat, add one pound of beef suet, and four pound apple raw, and a little salt, chop all together very fine, add one quart of wine, two pound of stoned raisins, one ounce of cinnamon, one ounce mace, and sweeten to your taste; make use of paste No. 3–bake three quarters of an hour.

Weeks after, when you have occasion to use them, carefully raise the top crust, and with a round edg’d spoon, collect the meat into a bason, which warm with additional wine and spices to the taste of your circle, while the crust is also warm’d like a hoe cake, put carefully together and serve up, by this means you can have hot pies through the winter, and enrich’d singly to your company.

I’m not thrilled with the “weeks after” bit. Is she serious? And . . . you can do this throughout the winter? I need a bit more context. What I think she is suggesting is something akin to mincemeat which will keep for months. That is because of the sugar content.

Neat’s foot is an old fashioned term for cow’s foot, which is hard to find. You can sometimes find neatsfoot oil which is used to preserve and waterproof leather shoes, similar to mink oil which I used to use on my hiking boots. Cowheel pie used to be a popular and cheap dish in Lancashire but I have not seen nor heard of it in decades. Cow’s foot, like pig’s trotter is fatty with little in the way of meat on it. Still, if you find some stew them up in a soup.

May 032017
 

Today was first designated as Sun Day by United States President Jimmy Carter in 1978. It was meant as a way of promoting the use of solar power as a source of energy,following a joint resolution by Congress, H.J.Res. 715. It was modeled on the highly successful Earth Day of April 22, 1970. It was the idea of Denis Hayes, who also coordinated Earth Day in 1970. On the first Sun Day President Carter flew to Denver to visit a solar power research institute, while other people gathered at Cadillac Mountain in Maine where the sun’s ray allegedly first touch the United States (although not at the time of the year). A crowd gathered at UN Plaza in New York City listened to speeches by people such as movie star Robert Redford, who reminded them that the sun “can’t be embargoed by any foreign nation”. At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, environmental activist Barry Commoner spoke to a group of 500 people, suggesting, a little hyperbolically, that solar power was an issue as pivotal as slavery and that power was the “… one solution to the economic problems of the United States.” Let’s take a small step back and say that solar power is not the cure all for all the world’s ills, but more can be done to support advancement of solar energy worldwide.

Carter’s initiative has taken a few steps forward and a few steps backward globally. When Reagan took office he swiftly undid many of Carter’s executive orders concerning conservation and green energy. Those who are old enough to remember Reagan’s first 100 days will recall that on his first day in office he ordered all the thermostats in the White House turned up where Carter had ordered them set at no higher than 70˚F.  As far as he was concerned there was no need to conserve finite energy sources. Also, Carter had famously planted a garden on the roof of the White House and had installed solar panels that provided hot water throughout the building. Reagan had the garden and the solar panels dismantled. I’m presuming he saw them both as hippie nonsense, and that “real men” burned fossil fuels for heat and got their vegetables from the supermarket.

Sun Day did not turn out to be as big a success as Earth Day, but it still deserves a tip of the hat. Carter in place a great many federal plans that have since been undone, and in the US now there is not much of a drive forward on the solar front. Clinton and Obama did almost nothing, and you can’t expect anything from Trump. Carter provided subsidies and federal funds for research into solar technology as well as tax breaks for installing certified solar systems. Carter wanted the US to be on track to be 20% reliable on renewable energy sources by 2000. That plan got derailed by successive governments. Carter knew the road was rocky.  He had met resistance from Congress from the outset. In 1979 when the White House solar panels were installed he said, “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” They are not even a museum piece; they are in storage somewhere in Maine: a forgotten part of US history.

There is so much that can be done with solar energy, but too many countries are turning their backs on it. In some ways the political struggles in places such as the US and Australia are understandable from a certain point of view. England pulled the plug on coal mining and tens of thousands lost their jobs as a result.  In addition, whole towns withered culturally. One of my favorite movies, Brassed Off, excellently documents what happens when a mining town loses its pits. Australia and the US lack the political will to promote renewable energy for two reasons.  First, closing mines is bad publicity, and, second, powerfully rich people with political clout are heavily invested in fossil fuels. There is certainly one problem here I am sympathetic to, namely, the plight of people who lose their jobs. The capitalists who benefit financially from fossil fuels are on their own. I am neither a politician nor an economist, so any solution I offer to the first problem will be simplistic. But all evidence I’ve read suggests that promotion of renewable energy sources creates jobs. The purpose of government, in my opinion, ought to be to make sure that those jobs are created in regions where they have been lost by the reduction in fossil fuel production.

Solar power has enormous potential which is still being developed. It would take me too long to break down all the statistics and provide meaningful analysis. There are plenty of sources for you. I’ll just cite two surprising results. First, China and Germany are world leaders in solar production of electricity. China has, of course, been a major polluter in the past, and many cities are still choked with air pollution. But the country is setting its sights high. Electric motor bikes are the norm in all major cities, and the country has the capacity to produce 22.5% of its electricity from solar panels. Germany is the second best with 20.6%. Compare this with Australia coming in at 2.6%. What exactly is the problem? Does Germany have more sun than Australia? My second surprising (maybe) result is that all the oil rich countries of the Middle East are 100% dependent on fossil fuels. There has to be a big element of laziness involved here. They have oil coming out the ears, so clearly feel no financial pressure to switch to renewables. Apparently they feel no moral pressure either. Who cares about pollution?

To my mind, one of the most wasteful home appliances that you find throughout the US is the clothes dryer. When I lived in New York I was rebuked by neighbors for using a washing line to dry my clothes.  Apparently it was unsightly, lowering the tone of the neighborhood. Since leaving there I have never used a dryer. I never saw one in China, and have not seen one in Italy. My apartments have come equipped with the means to hang my clothes to dry. Hanging your clothes in the sun to dry is as natural as breathing.

Solar-powered, and electric-powered cars are not quite ready yet to take on petrol cars but they are gaining ground. Hybrids of electric and petrol engines have a growing market now. The nut still to be cracked with solar and electric cars concerns battery capacity. In daylight, solar cars have unlimited mileage, but at night they must rely on batteries to store a charge, and batteries cannot, yet, provide a great range between recharges.

Using passive solar heat also has great potential. Here is one design for a house that heats itself in the winter months through solar energy. It combines the greenhouse effect of glass, with walls that store heat during the day and then release it at night.

This in turn brings me to the greenhouse, which I think of as one of the greatest inventions of all time for the gardener. I had plans to build one as an extension on my house but it never came to fruition. One of my best friends in England has two greenhouses on a small plot in Oxford City where he propagates all manner of rare and exotic cacti. This is England we’re talking about, not the Gobi or the Kalahari.  A greenhouse transforms your gardening possibilities immensely. Most especially I wanted one to be able to start plants from seed indoors that needed a warm and frost-free growing season that was longer than I had outdoors. I made use of available sunny window ledges but a greenhouse would have expanded my possibilities immeasurably.   But I am sure I would quickly have got into exotics as well.

I gave some recipe ideas here for the pads and fruit of the prickly pear https://www.bookofdaystales.com/desertification/  Let’s turn instead to sunflower seeds. These days baseball players in the US, if they are not chewing tobacco, love to crack sunflower seeds in their mouths, swallow the kernels, and spit out the husks. I’m happier just buying the kernels, which you can get at health food stores. This recipe calls for them roasted. I do this by spreading them in a single layer on a roasting pan and roasting them in a hot oven (400˚F) for no more than 10 minutes, checking constantly to be sure they don’t burn, and shaking the pan now and again to make sure they roast uniformly. You can also do this on top of the stove in a dry skillet over high heat.

Linguine with Roquefort and Sunflower Seeds

Ingredients

10 oz linguini
2 green onions, sliced
3 oz Roquefort
1 tbsp butter
1  cups sour cream
salt and pepper
⅓ cup roasted sunflower kernel
chopped parsley

Instructions

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green onion and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, until soft. Add the sour cream and crumble in the Roquefort. Add the sunflower kernels and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, and stir the sauce until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens.

Cook the linguini in boiling water until it is al dente. Drain well and toss into the sauce. Mix the sauce and pasta thoroughly, turn on to a serving plate and garnish with parsley.

May 012017
 

The 1st of May is a global celebration in one guise or other. I’ve already dealt with 2 important celebrations, International Workers’ Day (throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and beyond) https://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-workers-day/  and May Day which is mostly an English custom https://www.bookofdaystales.com/may-daymay-morning/ . It is also Walpurga’s Day which is celebrated in Germanic countries, typically more on the Eve than the day itself https://www.bookofdaystales.com/walpurgas-nightmay-eve/ . Now it’s the turn of Celtic traditions. Beltane was not historically associated with an exact date, but in modern times it has been pegged specifically to May 1.  As always, there’s a great deal of nonsense written about the nature of Beltane historically, with precious little in the way of primary sources to back it up. Romantic, and wishful, speculation always trumps proper historical method, largely because people have a (bad) habit of believing what they want to believe. Having fun in whatever way you want is fine with me.  I’d just prefer that you leave historical justification out of the picture. Here is what is reasonably certain.

In Irish Gaelic, the festival is usually called Lá Bealtaine (“day of Beltane”) while the month of May is Mí Bhealtaine (“month of Beltane”). In Scottish Gaelic, the month is called (An) Cèitean or a’ Mhàigh, and the festival is Latha Bealltainn. Sometimes the older Scottish Gaelic spelling Bealltuinn is used. In modern Scottish Gaelic, Latha Buidhe Bealltainn or Là Buidhe Bealltainn (“the yellow day of Beltane”) is used to describe the first day of May. This term Lá Buidhe Bealtaine is also used in Irish and is translated as “Bright May Day”.

Despite more fanciful etymologies of recent years, it is commonly accepted that the Old Irish word Beltaine is derived from the conjectured archaic Celtic *belo-te(p)niâ, meaning “bright fire”. The element *belo- is probably cognate with the obsolete English word “bale” (as in bale-fire) meaning “white” or “shining.” Middle English “bale” comes from Old English bǣl (“funeral pyre”) which derives from Proto-Germanic *bēlą (“pyre”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰel- (“to shine; gleam; sparkle”). Old Norse bál is also a cognate and may have been the direct source for the English word via Norse invaders. The most important point from all of this is that Beltane is a FIRE festival.

The best historical documentary evidence of the Celtic celebration of Beltane comes from Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, but something akin to it has been noted in Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Beltane in pastoral communities is associated with the beginning of the summer season when the animals of the community were driven up into summer pasture. The reverse traditionally occurred on Samhain (~ November 1) when they were driven back down to the village for winter.  Because timing was determined by climate and not by the weather, the exact date varied. In solar terms, Beltane is approximately a cross-quarter day – that is, in Northern latitudes, about halfway between the vernal equinox, and the summer solstice.

There are a number of customs that were once associated with Beltane, many of which died out but were revived in the second half of the 20th century: bonfires, May bushes, visits to holy wells, and house decorating. The Beltane bonfire was probably the most widespread tradition historically, and is the most common today.  There are references to Beltane in Old Irish literature, notably the (perhaps 10th century) glossary Sanas Cormaic and the anonymous, The Wooing of Emer by Cú Chulainn in the 15th or 16th century Tochmarc Emire, where we read:

For the druids used to make two fires with great incantations, and to drive the cattle between them against the plagues, every year.

I don’t trust this statement for one minute. What did early modern chroniclers actually know about druid customs that had died out a millennium earlier? In fact, we know virtually nothing about druids anywhere in the British Isles, but there is no end of idle speculation.  It’s possible also that Beltane bonfires were a conscious revival in the 18th and 19th centuries based on these old MSS, rather than the continuation of an ancient tradition.  In the 19th century, the ritual of driving cattle between two fires was documented in parts of Ireland and Scotland. Sometimes the cattle would be driven around a single bonfire or be made to leap over flames or embers. The people themselves would do likewise. In the Isle of Man, people encouraged the bonfire’s smoke to blow over them and their cattle. Subsequently people would daub themselves with the fire’s ashes and sprinkle it over their crops and livestock. Burning torches from the bonfire would be taken home, where they would be carried around the house or boundary of the farmstead and would be used to re-light the house’s fire which had been doused the night before.

Food could also be cooked at the bonfire. In 1769, Thomas Pennant wrote that, in Perthshire, a caudle made from eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk was cooked on the bonfire. Some of the mixture was poured on the ground as a libation. Everyone present would then take an oatmeal cake, called the bannoch Bealltainn or “Beltane bannock”. A bit of it was offered to the spirits to protect their livestock (one bit to protect the horses, one bit to protect the sheep, and so forth) and a bit was offered to each of the animals that might harm their livestock (one to the fox, one to the eagle, and so forth). Afterwards, they would drink the caudle.

According to several 18th century writers, who may or may not be reliable sources, in parts of Scotland there was another ritual involving the oatmeal cake. The cake would be cut and one of the slices marked with charcoal. The slices would then be put in a bonnet and everyone would take one out while blindfolded. According to one writer, whomever got the marked piece would have to leap through the fire three times. According to another, those present would pretend to throw him into the fire and, for some time afterwards, they would speak of him as if he were dead.

The use of yellow flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse, hazel, and marsh marigold as garlands was a common Beltane custom, analogous to customs throughout Europe. These were placed at doorways and windows at Beltane in 19th century Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at the doors and windows and sometimes they were made into bouquets, garlands or crosses and fastened to them. They would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making.

The May Bush was a common custom in parts of Ireland until the late 19th century. This was a small tree or branch—typically hawthorn, rowan or sycamore—decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, and so forth. There were household May Bushes (which would be placed outside each house) and communal May Bushes (which would be set in a public spot or paraded around the neighborhood). In Dublin and Belfast, May Bushes were brought into town from the countryside and decorated by the whole neighborhood. Each neighborhood competed for the most well-decorated tree. A certain amount of rowdiness associated with this custom led to the May Bush being outlawed in Victorian times. The practice of decorating a May Bush with flowers, ribbons, garlands and bright shells is found among the Gaelic diaspora, most notably in Newfoundland.

May garlands are a part of the Cornish May 1st celebrations in Padstow. On the evening of the Eve of May the town is thoroughly decorated with flowers, green bowers, and bunting. On May 1st there are two processions through town accompanying their ‘Obby ‘Oss – a unique custom of unknown origins. In the early part of the 20th century it was a very obscure event. But it was popularized by folklorists mid-century so that it is now a gargantuan tourist attraction, laden with the usual nonsense about ancient pagan origins despite the fact that the earliest reference to an ‘Obby ‘Oss in Padstow is 1803.

Holy wells were often visited at Beltane, as well as at Imbolc and Lughnasadh. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking “sunwise” (moving from east to west) around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or clooties (cloths). The first water drawn from a well on Beltane was seen as being especially potent, as was Beltane morning dew. It could (theoretically) be rolled in or collected in a jar, left in the sunlight, and then filtered. You might notice my skepticism. Ever tried collecting dew in a jar?

Most Beltane customs died out a long time ago and in many locations traces are seen only in place names and a few landmarks. There are a number of place names in Ireland containing the word Bealtaine, indicating places where Bealtaine festivities may have once been held. It is often Anglicized as Beltany. There are three Beltanys in County Donegal, including the Beltany stone circle, and two in County Tyrone. In County Armagh there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnach Bhealtaine (“the Beltane field”). Lisbalting/Lios Bealtaine (“the Beltane ringfort”) is in County Tipperary, while Glasheennabaultina/Glaisín na Bealtaine (“the Beltane stream”) is the name of a stream joining the River Galey in County Limerick.

I suggest that you play around with the idea of oatcakes and caudle on this day since they are so commonly mentioned in old sources. They both come in kaleidoscopic variety in the Celtic world. The traditional Scottish oatcake or bannock was a heavy, flat cake of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle or, before the 19th century cooked on a bannock stone, a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly on to a fire, then used as a cooking surface. Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a lighter texture.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites the earliest use of the word “caudle” in 1297. The earliest surviving recipe, from 1300–1325, is simply a list of ingredients: wine, wheat starch, raisins, and sugar to “abate the strength of the wine”. In a description of an initiation ceremony at Merton College, Oxford in 1647, caudle is described as a “syrupy gruel with spices and wine or ale added”. Another recipe from the late 14th century has more ingredients and more details on the cooking procedure: “mix breadcrumbs, wine, sugar or honey, and saffron, bring to a boil, then thicken with egg yolks, and sprinkle with salt, sugar, and ginger.” A 15th-century English cookbook includes three caudle recipes: ale or wine is heated and thickened with egg yolks and/or ground almonds, then optionally spiced with sugar, honey, saffron, and/or ginger. This is one version of caudle you can make without much effort. Just be sure to keep an eagle eye on the pot; it burns without much effort also !! This recipe is for one serving, but can easily be multiplied.

Caudle

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1 tbsp oatmeal
2 eggs, beaten
honey
salt
grated fresh nutmeg
whisky or ale

Instructions

Heat the milk in a pan with the oatmeal and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon, then turn down the heat and simmer until it starts to thicken.

Whisk in the eggs, plus honey and nutmeg to taste and simmer for about five minutes, constantly stirring to avoid sticking.

Remove from the heat and stir in whisky or ale in the quantity you want. Serve hot (“caudle” means “hot”) in mugs, or, if you prefer, you can pour it over a bannock as a dessert.

Apr 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1926) of Nelle Harper Lee who was known to friends and family as Nelle, but more widely known as Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. I count her among some distinguished “one hit wonders” of the literary world, such as J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind). They all had odds and ends published in their lifetimes, but their most famous novels are far and away their signature works. Of all three only To Kill a Mockingbird interests me at all. I found Catcher in the Rye tedious, and could not finish Gone With the Wind. On the other hand, I found To Kill a Mockingbird mesmerizing: book and film. It’s possible that these interests of mine are a function of the time of my life when I read the books.  I was a young schoolteacher in England when I read Salinger and Mitchell, but I was a graduate student in anthropology in North Carolina when I tackled Harper Lee, so I was sensitized to the book’s themes.

To Kill a Mockingbird, burst on the scene right at the time that the Civil Rights movement in the US was uncovering the blatant racism of the American South (not that other parts of the US were guiltless). Segregation, poverty, and injustice were the social norms throughout the South, but were unparalleled in Deep South states such as Alabama and Mississippi. To Kill a Mockingbird could be said to have been as instrumental in vitalizing sentiments towards Civil Rights in the U.S.in the 1960s as Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a century earlier, in the movement to abolish slavery.  Mississippi did not get around to ratifying the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, until 2013 !!! Of course, it was a completely symbolic gesture because the Amendment was passed by enough states to make it law in 1865.  Rather surprisingly, of the 4 states that rejected ratification 2 were northern (New Jersey and Delaware) and 2 were Southern (Kentucky and Mississippi). Kentucky ratified in 1976 and Mississippi began the process in 1995.

The plot and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, as well as an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.  Truman Capote was a childhood friend and is the basis for the boy Dill in the book. The novel deals with the irrationality of adult attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, as depicted through the eyes of two children, especially 6-year-old Scout Finch. The lead character, Atticus Finch, is still frequently upheld as an absolute model of honesty and integrity in the face of social injustice, not only by lawyers, but by the general public as a whole. Many people who knew him said that Gregory Peck was perfect to play the role in the movie, because he was the living embodiment of these values in his personal life.

Various federal laws passed in the 1960s, and afterwards, ended many of the overtly racist practices of Southern (and other) states, almost like a reprise of the Civil War a century earlier. But what was ended de jure continued de facto, and still continues, in many regions of the U.S. in full force. The 2016 presidential election highlighted this fact, which many open-minded people wanted to believe was a thing of the past, and which many closed-minded people did not want to acknowledge.  For this reason alone I would vote for To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the greatest 20th-century novels if not the greatest. It captures the spirit of its time perfectly, and represents ongoing realities across the U.S.

To Kill a Mockingbird was an instant success both critically and as a publication. Yet, some critics treated it with some disdain, not because of the racial themes, but because they felt it had confusing themes: the unjust trial of an African-American man, on the one hand, and the narrative thread of the strange and reclusive “Boo” Radley, on the other. I don’t see this at all. The novel is a comprehensive view of the many complexities, involving race and class, among other things, of a rural Southern town in the 20th century. It is a small ethnography, in fiction, of the stark truth.

Some critics, including modern ones, object to the language, notably the use of the word “nigger.” People in the US are still frightened to say the word, even when all they are doing is quoting someone. Of course, actually using the word against someone is deeply offensive, but reporting what someone else said (perhaps indicating their racism), ought to be allowed. Instead EVERYONE in the media reports something like, “He used the N-word . . .” as if saying the word itself (even though you are reporting the speech of others), somehow includes you in its racism. Harper Lee used the word in the mouths of racists because it was true to life.  In 1966, Lee wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond News Leader in response to the attempts of a Richmond, Virginia, area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as “immoral literature” (not least because she used the word “nigger” 48 times). It is a priceless gem:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

James J. Kilpatrick, the editor of the Richmond News Leader, started the Beadle Bumble fund to pay fines for victims of what he termed “despots on the bench” (named for a famous Dickens character). He built the fund using contributions from readers, and later used it to defend books as well as people. After the board in Richmond ordered schools to dispose of all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, Kilpatrick wrote, “A more moral novel scarcely could be imagined.” In the name of the Beadle Bumble fund, he then offered free copies to children who wrote in, and by the end of the first week, he had given away 81 copies.

The book was turned into a movie in 1962 and was unfortunate to run up against Lawrence of Arabia for the Oscars that year, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Score. Peter O’Toole had been nominated for Best Actor for his performance as T. E. Lawrence, but Peck won for Mockingbird. The movie also won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is, indeed, a faithful rendering of the book in many important ways, and Harper Lee approved of its translation from book to film and consulted on the set.

The choice of black and white for the film, instead of the more popular color at the time, may have been a budgetary decision, but I think that it would have been ruined by color. It could also be said that black and white was the inherent message of the film (and book). Hands down the following clip is my favorite from the movie, and still brings tears to my eyes:

The film also marked the screen debut of Robert Duvall as Arthur “Boo” Radley, who before working on the film was a stage actor.

Just about every line of To Kill a Mockingbird is quotable. This is a very small sample of my numerous favorites, most obvious first:

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.

Finding a recipe to celebrate Harper Lee is a piece of cake – literally. The book, especially in the opening chapters, is laden with references to food, but mentions of Lane cake are classic. Scout reports, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” “Shinny” is a slang term for liquor. Also, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who was severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home. “Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

Lane cake, also known as prize cake or Alabama Lane cake, is a bourbon-laden baked cake traditional in the American South. According to food historian Neil Ravenna, the inventor was Emma Rylander Lane, of Clayton, Alabama, who won first prize with it at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She called it “Prize Cake” when she self-published a cookbook, A Few Good Things to Eat in 1898. Her published recipe included raisins, pecans, and coconut, and called for the layers to be baked in pie tins lined with ungreased brown paper rather than in cake pans.

This recipe is from Emma Rylander Law, Mrs. Lane’s granddaughter, and was published in an article by Cecily Brownstone for the Associated Press on Dec. 19, 1967. I’ve edited it very slightly and added a recipe for boiled white frosting which is missing from the original.

Lane Cake

Cake

Ingredients

3 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 1/6 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 egg whites
1 cup milk

Instructions

On wax paper sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg whites, in four additions, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Fold in flour mixture alternately with milk; begin and end with dry ingredients. Batter should be smooth but look slightly granular.

Turn into 4 ungreased 9-inch round layer-cake pans lined on the bottom with wax paper.

Bake in a 375-degree oven until edges shrink slightly from sides of pans and tops spring back when gently pressed with finger, or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean — about 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes.

Turn out on wire racks; remove wax paper; turn right side up; cool completely.

Put layers together (on a cake plate) with Lane Cake Filling, stacking carefully; do not spread filling over top. Cover top and sides with swirls of Boiled White Frosting.

Cover with a tent of foil or a cake cover; or cover tightly in a large deep bowl in tin box. Store in a cool place; if refrigerated, allow to stand at room temperature for half a day before serving because cake texture is best when cake is not served chilled

Filling

Ingredients

8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
1 – 3 cup bourbon or brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

In a 2-quart saucepan, beat the egg yolks well; beat in sugar and butter. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly until quite thick. Remove from heat; stir in raisins, bourbon and vanilla. Cool slightly; use as directed.

Boiled White Frosting

Ingredients

1 cup white sugar
⅓ cup water
1 tbsp light corn syrup
⅛ tsp salt
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

Combine sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon to mix completely. Boil the mixture over medium-high heat without stirring until  it reaches 238 – 242˚F (114 – 117˚C), or will spin a long thread when a little is dropped from a spoon held above the pan (see HINTS tab on sugar).

It is best to use a mixer for this step. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff but still moist. Then pour the hot syrup slowly over the beaten egg whites while continuing to beat. Continue until the mixture is very fluffy, and will hold its shape. Add the vanilla and keep beating until blended. If the icing does not seem stiff enough, beat in 2 or 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until stiff enough to hold its shape. Spread immediately on your cake.