Dec 242020

Today is Juleaften in Denmark, the main event of Jul (Yule), which spans most of December, and dates back centuries to old Nordic customs.  Before I get into Yule traditions in Denmark – and today’s recipe – I will celebrate one of the most famous Danish painters of the Danish Golden Age, Nicolai Wilhelm Marstrand who was born on this date in 1810.

Marstrand studied at Copenhagen’s Metropolitan School (Metropolitanskolen), but had little interest in books, and left around 16 years of age. Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, painter and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, was a close friend of Wilhelm’s father, and it was to all appearance Eckersberg who recommended an artistic career for young Wilhelm. Wilhelm had already shown artistic talent, tackling difficult subjects such as group scenes with many figures and complicated composition.

At 16 years of age Marstrand thus began his studies at the Academy under Eckersberg, attending the school from 1826 to 1833. Although his interests had a firm hold in genre themes – depiction of the daily life he observed around him in Copenhagen’s streets, especially middle-class society – he would soon reach for the pinnacle of Academic acceptability: the history painting.

In August 1836 he began the first of his many travels, going by way of Germany to Rome, stopping on the way at Berlin, Dresden, Nuremberg and Munich. In Italy, where he stayed for four years, he painted many idealized depictions of daily life, especially festivities. He returned to Italy several times, the last visit being in 1869, and when in Rome he spent summer months each year in the hill towns Olevano Romano, Civitella and Subiaco. He was enchanted with Italy and with the ways of life of the Italian people. He portrayed a colorful, joyous, and romantic view of them, infused with a newfound ideal of beauty.

He also painted a number of portraits during this first stay in Italy. Among these are portraits of other travelling Danish artists, such as Christen Købke and traveling partner Johan Adolph Kittendorff.

Marstrand returned to Denmark at the end of 1841, stopping in Munich and Paris on the way. In Denmark he strove to bring back that which he learned in Italy, and allow it to develop in his home culture. He became a member of the art Academy on 19th June 1843, after submitting the painting “Erasmus Montanus” as his admissions piece. He became a professor at the Academy in 1848. He endeavored to let his students evolve according to their own skills and interests. Among these were the two most renowned Skagen painters Peder Severin Krøyer and Michael Ancher, as well as Carl Bloch and Kristian Zahrtmann. Marstrand continued to travel regularly around Europe throughout his life, to (London, Vienna, Belgium, but especially to Italy and Rome), at times in the company of such fellow artists such as P. C. Skovgaard and Johan Adolph Kittendorff, or of art historian and critic Niels Lauritz Høyen.

History painting displayed what was grand – classical themes from mythology and history, rather than daily life. The traditions, and the taste of traditional art critics, strongly favored it. It was therefore something to strive for, in spite of Marstrand’s equal skill at depicting more modest themes, and of the enjoyment he had in portraying the crowds, the diversions of the city, and the humor and story behind the hustle and bustle. Marstrand’s creative production, throughout his life, never abandoned this inclination toward displaying the simple life of his times.

In the evening of Juleaften Danes traditionally eat a family meal consisting of roast pork, roast duck, or – more rarely – roast goose, with caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and brown gravy. The dessert should be risalamande, a cold rice pudding dish, with a hot cherry sauce. The name is based on French riz à l’amande meaning “rice with almonds,” although the dessert has a Danish origin (copying French styles of cuisine in the 19th century). Rice pudding is a favorite dessert in Denmark throughout the year, but risalamande is reserved for Juleaften.  A whole almond is added to the dessert, and the person who finds it wins a small prize such as a marzipan pig, a chocolate heart or a small board game. The finder may conceal their discovery as long as possible, so that the rest of the company is forced to eat the entire dish of risalamande, even after they have already eaten a large dinner.

After the meal is complete, (or sometimes before) the family dances around the Juletræ singing Christmas carols and hymns like “Nu er det jul igen” (Now it is Yule again) and “Et barn er født i Bethlehem” (A child has been born in Bethlehem). Thirty years ago I was invited to a Juleaften dinner by some Danes and we all joined hands in a circle around the tree, which was lit exclusively by candles (superb sight, but a fire hazard), and danced while singing.  After the singing the presents are handed out in turn, followed by more snacks and sweets and the traditional Gløgg.

This video gives the general idea of making risalamande, followed by a more detailed recipe:



2.25 dl short-grained white rice
1 dl water
1 l milk
2 vanilla beans
150 g almonds
2 tbsp sugar
5 dl heavy cream
1 can cherry sauce


In a saucepan; add the rice and water. Heat it up and let it boil for about 2 minutes.  Add the milk to the pudding and heat until boiling, stirring constantly. Cut open the vanilla beans, scrape out the seeds and add them to the pot. This is done by slicing the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds using a knife. Also add 2 tablespoons of sugar and the empty vanilla bean skins.

Cover and simmer on low heat for about 35 minutes. The rice has a tendency to burn to so to stir regularly. Remove the empty vanilla beans. The rice pudding part is now done. Let it cool in the refrigerator before you proceeding.

Heat some water until boiling point and pour it in a small bowl. Add the almonds and let them soak in the hot water for about 5-7 minutes. One-by-one take the almonds up and press them between two fingers so that the peel separates from the almond.  Coarsely chop the almonds and mix them with the cold rice pudding. In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream and gently mix the it with the rice pudding. Refrigerate until serving.

Heat cherry sauce in a saucepan until it is warm (not hot).  Divide the rice pudding between bowls and pour the cherry sauce over the top. (The video shows how to make the cherry sauce if you prefer it to readymade).



Aug 212015


Today is the birthday (1920) of Christopher Robin Milne, the son of author A. A. Milne. As a child, he was the basis of the character Christopher Robin in his father’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and in two books of poems. He was born at 11 Mallord St, in Chelsea, London. His parents had expected the baby to be a girl, and had chosen the name Rosemary. When it turned out to be a boy, they initially intended to call him Billy, but decided that would be too informal. They gave him two first names to help distinguish him from other Milnes; each parent chose a name. Although he was officially named Christopher Robin, his parents often referred to him as “Billy”. When he began to talk, he pronounced his surname as Moon instead of Milne. After that, his family would often call him “Billy”, “Moon”, or “Billy Moon”. In later life, he became known as simply “Christopher”.


On his first birthday, he received an Alpha Farnell teddy bear he called Edward. This bear, along with a real Canadian bear named “Winnie” that Milne saw at the London Zoo, eventually became the inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh character. The teddy bear was about two feet tall, light in color, frequently lost its eyes, and was a constant companion to Milne.

As was customary for upper-class and upper-middle-class English children at the time, Milne was reared by a nanny – Olive Brockwell. Meetings with his parents were restricted to short periods just after breakfast, at tea time, and in the evening, just before he went to bed. As he grew up, he spent more time with them; however, as his parents spent little time together, Milne divided his own time between his mother and his father.

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Time spent with his father led to Milne’s love of mathematics and cricket, as well as to their shared pacifism. Though Milne spoke self-deprecatingly of his intellect, referring to himself many times as being “dim”, he was accomplished for a boy of his age. The reason for his denying his intelligence was his ability to solve complex equations with little or no difficulty but his having to concentrate on much simpler ones. From his mother, Milne acquired a talent for working with his hands. He owned a small tool kit, which he used to disassemble the lock on his nursery door when he was seven years old. By the age of 10, he had modified the works of a grandfather clock and altered a cap gun so that it would shoot real bullets.


In his childhood, Milne was fond of being associated with his father’s books and helped him to write a few of the stories. Once, he went so far as to organize a short play for his parents, re-enacting a story about himself and his friends in the woods. However, after starting school, he was mocked by his peers, who recited passages from the books, particularly from the poem Vespers: “Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.” Milne, therefore, grew to resent the attention his father’s success had brought him.

Milne first attended the Gibbs School, an independent school in London, in 1929. At age nine, he went on to Boxgrove Preparatory School, a privately owned preparatory school in Guildford, and then at 13 to Stowe School, an independent boys’ school in Buckinghamshire, where he learned to box as a way to defend himself from his classmates’ taunts. In 1939, he won a scholarship to study Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge.

When World War II broke out, Milne left his studies and attempted to join the army but failed the medical examination. His father used his influence to get Milne a position with the second training battalion of the Royal Engineers. He received his commission in July 1942 and was posted to the Middle East and Italy.

While serving abroad, he began to resent what he saw as his father’s exploitation of his childhood and came to hate the books that had thrust him into the public eye. After being discharged from the army, he went to Cambridge to complete his studies and graduated with a Third Class Honours degree in English.


On 24 July 1948, Milne married his first cousin, Lesley de Sélincourt. His mother disliked the marriage, partly because she did not get along with her brother, Lesley’s father Aubrey. (She had wanted her son to marry his childhood friend, Anne Darlington.) In 1951, Milne and his wife moved to Dartmouth to found the Harbour Bookshop, which turned out to be a success, though his mother had thought the decision odd, as Milne did not seem to like “business”, and as a bookseller would regularly have to meet Pooh fans. While both of these issues did at times cause them frustration, Milne and his wife ran their bookshop for many years without any help from royalties from sales of the Pooh books. After he retired from the bookshop, his wife and a business partner opened a secondhand bookshop. The Harbour Bookshop reopened in spring 2012 as a community-run bookshop.


Milne occasionally visited his father after the elder Milne became ill, but once his father died, he did not see his mother during the 15 years that passed before her death; even when she was on her deathbed she refused to see her son.

A few months after his father’s death in 1956, Christopher’s daughter Clare was born and diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. She would later run a charity for the disabled called the Clare Milne Trust.


In 1974, Milne published the first of three autobiographical books. The Enchanted Places gave an account of his childhood and of the problems he had encountered because of the Pooh books.


Milne gave the original stuffed animals that inspired the Pooh characters to the books’ editor, who in turn donated them to the New York Public Library; Marjorie Taylor (in her book Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them) recounts how many were disappointed at this, and Milne had to explain that he preferred to concentrate on the things that currently interested him. Milne had also disliked the idea of Winnie-the-Pooh being commercialized.

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The Shepard drawings in the Winnie-the-Pooh books are very sensitive and seem to me to capture the spirit of the young Christopher Robin (as seen in the images above). But when Disney took over the enterprise, disaster struck. The Disney factory has a way of taking stories that have profound depth and complexity, and turning them into shallow trivia for the purposes of making money and not much else. I have every sympathy with Milne on this point.

Milne lived for some years with myasthenia gravis and died in his sleep on 20 April 1996. He was seventy-five years old.

I picked a nursery recipe from Mrs Beeton in recognition of Milne’s childhood. When you read her descriptions of the duties of the nursery staff you have to cringe. Here’s a sample:

2399. Most children have some bad habit, of which they must be broken; but this is never accomplished by harshness without developing worse evils: kindness, perseverance, and patience in the nurse, are here of the utmost importance. When finger-sucking is one of these habits, the fingers are sometimes rubbed with bitter aloes, or some equally disagreeable substance. Others have dirty habits, which are only to be changed by patience, perseverance, and, above all, by regularity in the nurse. She should never be permitted to inflict punishment on these occasions, or, indeed, on any occasion. But, if punishment is to be avoided, it is still more necessary that all kinds of indulgences and flattery be equally forbidden. Yielding to all the whims of a child,—picking up its toys when thrown away in mere wantonness, would be intolerable. A child should never be led to think others inferior to it, to beat a dog, or even the stone against which it falls, as some children are taught to do by silly nurses. Neither should the nurse affect or show alarm at any of the little accidents which must inevitably happen: if it falls, treat it as a trifle; otherwise she encourages a spirit of cowardice and timidity. But she will take care that such accidents are not of frequent occurrence, or the result of neglect.

You can just see the colonial cavalry officer in training.


Rice pudding is a perennial favorite in the nursery. It was a childhood delight for me which I have since grown out of. Make sure you use starchy, short-grained rice. I’d also be inclined to cook it somewhat less and put some sugar in the water.

VARIETIES OF RICE.—Of the varieties of rice brought to our market, that from Bengal is chiefly of the species denominated cargo rice, and is of a coarse reddish-brown cast, but peculiarly sweet and large-grained; it does not readily separate from the husk, but it is preferred by the natives to all the others. Patua rice is more esteemed in Europe, and is of very superior qualify; it is small-grained, rather long and wiry, and is remarkably white. The Carolina rice is considered as the best, and is likewise the dearest in London.

(With Dried or Fresh fruit; a nice dish for the Nursery.)

1346. INGREDIENTS.—1/2 lb. of rice, 1 pint of any kind of fresh fruit that may be preferred, or 1/2 lb. of raisins or currants.

Mode.—Wash the rice, tie it in a cloth, allowing room for it to swell, and put it into a saucepan of cold water; let it boil for an hour, then take it up, untie the cloth, stir in the fruit, and tie it up again tolerably tight, and put it into the water for the remainder of the time. Boil for another hour, or rather longer, and serve with sweet sauce, if made with dried fruit, and with plain sifted sugar and a little cream or milk, if made with fresh fruit.

Time.—1 hour to boil the rice without the fruit; 1 hour, or longer, afterwards.

Average cost, 6d.

Sufficient for 6 or 7 children. Seasonable at any time.

Note.—This pudding is very good made with apples: they should be pared cored, and cut into thin slices.