Oct 012018

Today is Lincolnshire Day celebrated every year on 1st October to mark the anniversary of the Lincolnshire Rising, a revolt by Catholics against the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII in 1536. The first official Lincolnshire Day was held in 2006 to commemorate the uprising. The date was voted on by readers of Lincolnshire Life magazine and BBC Radio Lincolnshire listeners. The day aims to encourage local people, often known as yellowbellies, as well as those who have moved from the county, to honor the historical event along with Lincolnshire’s traditions, past and culture. Some people dress up in yellow to celebrate the day, while others hold local events and decorate their workplaces with Lincolnshire flags.

I have honored Lincolnshire numerous times in my posts because of famous sites and events, or because of famous people from Lincolnshire, such as, Sir Isaac Newton, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Flinders, Joseph Banks, and George Boole. Lincolnshire is home to the famous Red Arrows RAF display team, Lincoln Cathedral, the Lincolnshire Wolds and original copies of the Magna Carta (1215) and Charter of the Forest (1217).

Lincolnshire is also the putative home of a famous poacher, immortalized in a ballad that is sometimes referred to as a folk song, but is really an old broadside of unknown origin. It made it into numerous song books for schools, and I expect everyone who went to school in England in my era knows it. Here it is played by the Grenadier Guards. It is the regimental march of the Royal Anglian Regiment (and they are nicknamed The Poachers):

This might lead you to cook hare or deer in celebration, but Lincolnshire is much better known for its pork products. I have given recipes for Lincolnshire haslet, and pork pies already. Now I will turn my attention to Lincolnshire sausages.

Lincolnshire sausages are made with coarsely chopped or ground pork mixed with binders, seasonings and a preservative. Traditionally, the dominant seasoning flavor has always been sage, although some modern recipes include other herbs, such as parsley or thyme, and flavorings such as onion. Efforts to standardize and control the manufacture of Lincolnshire sausages have resulted in a proposed ingredients list to which future manufacturers of Lincolnshire sausages may have to adhere:


British pork, coarse cut, minimum meat content 70%

Maximum fat content 25%

Breadcrumbs/bread rusk

Sage, salt and pepper

Natural pork casings (or sheep casings, for chipolata-style sausages)

Sulphite preservative (to 450 ppm maximum)

Unlike the Cumberland sausage, there is no standard width or length for a Lincolnshire sausage. Commonly, the variety is associated with a broader style, but Lincolnshire chipolata sausages are also widely available. In 2004, a group of 13 Lincolnshire butchers, led by the large sausage-producing firm of George Adams & Sons, began moves to protect the name of the Lincolnshire sausage, applying for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under European Union law, which may go by the wayside under Brexit. In support of the PGI application, the Lincolnshire Sausage Association was formed in early 2006. Under these proposals, to qualify as a ‘Lincolnshire’ sausage, not only would a sausage have to be manufactured in the county, but it would also have to conform to the standard ingredient list, above.

Bangers and mash are, therefore, on the menu today with a gravy seasoned with sage and onions.

Feb 152017

Today is the birthday (1797) of Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, anglicized name Henry Engelhard Steinway, who  made pianos in Germany and the United States. He was the founder of the legendary piano company Steinway & Sons. He was born in Wolfshagen im Harz, Duchy of Brunswick in the Holy Roman Empire. He attended public school in his home town. At the age of 8, he was ostensibly orphaned on the death of his mother, and thrown upon his own resources, until his father and brothers, once thought to have been killed in action, returned and claimed him. Then, at 15, he was orphaned this time genuinely on the death of his father, and he joined the German Army. In 1814, he joined the Schwarze Schar, the volunteer corps of Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in the war against Napoleon’s occupation of parts of the German states but remained in the garrison throughout the Napoleonic  campaign of the Hundred Days in 1815.

He left service on 23 June 1822 and began work as a carpenter, and later he became an apprentice to an organ builder in the town of Goslar. During this time he developed a love for music and became a church organist. He started building instruments, though hidden in the kitchen of his house because of the strong rules of the instrument builders’ guilds. In Braunschweig (Brunswick), he started by building guitars and zithers, and then graduated to pianos, of small proportions initially and gradually increasing in size.

In 1835 he made the first square piano, which he presented to his bride Juliane at their wedding. In 1836 he built his first grand piano in his kitchen in the town of Seesen. This piano was later named the “kitchen piano”, and is now on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with a Steinweg 1836 square piano. In 1839, he exhibited three pianos at the state trade exhibition in Braunschweig and was awarded a gold medal.

Because of the unstable political climate following the revolutions of 1848 in the German states and the limited economic opportunities for a man working outside a guild, Steinweg decided to leave the country. He emigrated from Braunschweig to New York City in 1850 with five of his sons, but before leaving he gave the company to his son, Christian Friedrich Theodor Steinweg. Later in New York, he anglicized his name to Henry E. Steinway upon advice from friends, who concluded that the German surname Steinweg would be disadvantageous for doing business. Steinway and his sons worked for other piano companies until they could establish their own production under the name of Steinway & Sons in 1853.

The overstrung scale in a square piano earned the Steinway Piano first prize at the New York Industrial Fair of 1855. In 1862 they gained the first prize in London in competition with the most eminent makers in Europe; and this victory was followed in 1867 by a similar success at the Universal exposition in Paris. Certain piano giants such as Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein praised Steinways to the skies for their durability, action, and tone-quality helping to make Steinway a household name in pianos.

This short infomercial about the Steinway product pretty much sums things up. The action and tone of  Steinway pianos are their most marked features:

It’s not at all sensible to give you a YouTube video of a Steinway in action because of the limited tone qualities of the recordings.  You need to hear one live. At Purchase College (SUNY) where I was a professor of anthropology and dance for 35 years, Steinways were everywhere. Every dance studio in the dance conservatory (claimed to be the largest in the U.S.), had its own Steinway, for example.  I might argue that this is a waste of great instruments given that neither the dance students nor their teachers were especially interested in the tone of the music they were dancing to, but the practice musicians enjoyed the experience (for the most part). One once complained to me about the “famed Steinway action” as an impediment to his playing style, which is near blasphemy and might be a comment on his capacities as a musician more than on the pianos themselves. I don’t play piano, so I will remain neutral.

The elevators in the music conservatory at Purchase College were designed to be large enough and sturdy enough to accommodate a grand piano because the instruments had to be shunted around quite frequently for rehearsals and performances, and the Steinways proved to be durable enough to be up to the task (with a piano tuner on call all the time).

Steinway’s home of Brunswick or Braunschweig gives its name to the eponymous Braunschweiger, but things are a little complicated. The name has never been subject to any kind of copyright, patent, or formal region of origin status, and hence is used indiscriminately for a variety of different sausages in different regions. In Germany Braunschweiger usually refers to a variety of Mettwurst that is made of coarsely ground fatty pork with flavorings added, then smoked, and is spreadable. In Austria, Braunschweiger is a type of Brühwurst that is cooked, while in the US Braunschweiger is a type of liverwurst.  Let’s focus on German Braunschweiger Mettwurst. You may have to travel to Germany to find it.

Legends abound concerning the original maker(s) of Braunschweiger Mettwurst, none of them trustworthy – like pretty well all stories about origins.  Best guess is that a version of Braunschweiger appeared in Brunswick in the 1830s and has evolved over time in Germany and elsewhere.  Garlic is the most common flavoring.  For my money you can’t do any better then spread Braunschweiger plain on coarse German bread, but it’s also tasty with the addition of sauerkraut and mustard.  This is really where you have to decide for yourself – raw onions? tomatoes? cheese?  Your choice.


Aug 172016


Today is the birthday of Pierre de Fermat, a French lawyer at the Parlement of Toulouse and a mathematician who is given credit for early developments that led to the development of calculus. His year of birth is given variously as 1601 and 1607. He is best known, publicly and in the world of mathematics, for Fermat’s Last Theorem, which he described in a note in the margin of a copy of Diophantus’ Arithmetica. I’ll try not to wear you out with mathematics, but I do want to celebrate the life of a person who tends to be forgotten these days.

Fermat was born in Beaumont-de-Lomagne in southern France. The late 15th-century mansion where Fermat was born is now a museum. His father, Dominique Fermat, was a wealthy leather merchant, and served three one-year terms as one of the four consuls of Beaumont-de-Lomagne. His mother was either Françoise Cazeneuve or Claire de Long. Pierre had one brother and two sisters and was almost certainly brought up in the town of his birth. There is little evidence concerning his school education, but it was probably at the Collège de Navarre in Montauban.


He began studies at the University of Orléans in1623 and received a bachelor in civil law in 1626, before moving to Bordeaux. In Bordeaux he began his first serious mathematical researches, and he produced important work on maxima and minima which he gave to Étienne d’Espagnet who clearly shared mathematical interests with Fermat. There he became much influenced by the work of François Viète.

In 1630, he bought the office of a councilor at the Parlement de Toulouse, one of the High Courts of Judicature in France, and was sworn in by the Grand Chambre in May 1631. He held this office for the rest of his life. Fermat thereby became entitled to change his name from Pierre Fermat to Pierre de Fermat. Fermat was fluent in six languages, French, Latin, Occitan, classical Greek, Italian, and Spanish, and was praised for his written verse in several languages, as well as his advice regarding the emendation of Greek texts.


He communicated most of his work in letters to friends, often with little or no proof of his theorems. Secrecy was common in European mathematical circles at the time. This naturally led to priority disputes with contemporaries such as Descartes and Wallis. Fermat’s mathematics derived mainly from  classical Greek treatises combined with new algebraic methods he learned from colleagues.

Fermat’s pioneering work in analytic geometry was circulated in manuscript form in 1636, predating the publication of Descartes’ famous La géométrie. This manuscript was published posthumously in 1679 in Varia opera mathematica, as Ad Locos Planos et Solidos Isagoge, (“Introduction to Plane and Solid Loci”). In Methodus ad disquirendam maximam et minimam and in De tangentibus linearum curvarum, Fermat developed a method (adequality) for determining maxima, minima, and tangents to various curves that was equivalent to differential calculus. Fermat was the first person known to have evaluated the integral of general power functions. With his method, he was able to reduce this evaluation to the sum of geometric series. The resulting formula was helpful to Newton, and then Leibniz, when they independently developed the fundamental theorem of calculus.

OK, I’ll spare you too much more. Briefly, Fermat was fascinated by number theory, and, in particular with whole numbers. As such you could say that he was a true disciple of Pythagoras whose philosophical school saw whole numbers as mystical as well as being the bedrock of the laws of the cosmos. Although Fermat claimed to have proven all of his arithmetic theorems, few records of his proofs have survived. Many mathematicians, including Gauss, doubted several of his claims, especially given the difficulty of some of the problems and the limited mathematical methods available to Fermat. His famous Last Theorem was first discovered by his son in the margin in his father’s copy of an edition of Diophantus, and included the statement that the margin was too small to include the proof. It seems that he had not written to anyone about it. It was finally proven in 1994 by Sir Andrew Wiles, using techniques unavailable to Fermat.

Through their correspondence in 1654, Fermat and Blaise Pascal helped lay the fundamental groundwork for the theory of probability. From this brief but productive collaboration on the problem of points, they are now regarded as joint founders of probability theory. Fermat is credited with carrying out the first ever rigorous probability calculation. In it, he was asked by a professional gambler why if he bet on rolling at least one six in four throws of a die he won in the long term, whereas betting on throwing at least one double-six in 24 throws of two dice resulted in his losing. Fermat proved why this was the case mathematically.


I should at least give a special nod to Fermat’s Last Theorem, sometimes called Fermat’s Conjecture, especially in older texts, because it was not proven. This shouldn’t baffle too many readers, I hope. It states that no three positive integers (whole numbers) a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two. The cases n = 1 and n = 2 have been known to have infinitely many solutions since antiquity. The case of n =1 is trivial because any number raised to the first power is itself. So you can do this in your head – for example, 11 + 21 = 31 and so forth. If you remember geometry and Pythagoras you’ll also remember classic cases such as 32 + 42 = 52 (9 + 16 = 25). It’s one thing to go through countless examples of numbers raised to the 3rd, 4th, 5th, millionth power etc and show that they don’t work. It’s quite another to prove that none work.

The unsolved problem stimulated the development of algebraic number theory in the 19th century and the proof of the modularity theorem in the 20th century. It is among the most notable theorems in the history of mathematics and prior to its proof, it was in the Guinness Book of Records as the “most difficult mathematical problem,” one of the reasons being that it has the largest number of unsuccessful proofs.


Fermat died at Castres, in the department of Tarn. Isaac Newton once said when someone praised him that he saw so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Fermat was one of those giants.


Toulouse was Fermat’s home most of his life, so let’s talk about Toulouse sausage to begin with. Toulouse sausages are legendary and nowadays can be found over most of France and parts of western Europe. I don’t know if they have protected status, but obviously they are best in and around Toulouse. They are made from coarsely chopped fatty pork, smoked bacon, garlic, pepper and red wine. They are sold raw and must be cooked before eating. They are commonly used in cassoulet, which is also native to Toulouse. Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in Languedoc, which contains meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs). In Toulouse, sausage, pork, and mutton are the most common meats. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.


Modern cooks usually use pre-cooked beans, or beans simmered in a broth with vegetables, and pre-cooked meats for simplicity. But this practice is not traditional. According to common folklore, home peasant cooks had one cassole that they used exclusively for cassoulet which they never washed. They simply deglazed it and started again, so that it was imbued with the flavors of cassoulets past. In theory, therefore, today’s cassoulet could be the end product of years, or decades, of continuous use. I’m perfectly in tune with this impulse. My cast-iron skillets and wooden salad bowl went unwashed for years in my old kitchen. No doubt germophobes will protest, and I am not recommending the habit. However, I will note that I am still alive, and my cooking did not make anyone sick. I will also note that I took reasonable precautions to make sure that harmful stuff was not lurking about despite not washing my pots.



1 lb/½kg dried haricot beans
salt and pepper
4 cups chicken stock
3 packets unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp duck fat (or vegetable oil)
8 oz/250g  salt pork, cut into small cubes
1 lb/½ kg Toulouse sausage (about 2 to 4 links)
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, unpeeled, cut into large sections
2 stalks celery, cut into large sections
1 whole head garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves


Place the dried beans in salted water to cover in a large pot, and soak overnight.

Next day, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.

Warm the stock slightly and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir and set aside.

Heat the duck fat  in a Dutch oven over high heat.  Add the salt pork and sauté until browned on all sides. Remove the salt pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the sausages to the pot and sauté until well-browned on both sides. Add to the cooked salt pork and set aside. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons fat from pot.

Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they are translucent. Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, and stock/gelatin mixture. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce to low, cover and cook until the beans are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

Pick out the carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves, and cloves and discard. Add the sausage and salt pork to the pot and mix everything together.

Transfer the pot to the oven and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top, about 2 hours, adding more water by pouring it carefully down the side of the pot as necessary to keep beans mostly covered.

Break the crust with a spoon and shake the pot gently to redistribute the beans and meat. Return to the oven and continue cooking, stopping to break and shake the crust every 30 minutes until the 4 ½ hour mark.

Return to the oven and continue cooking undisturbed until the crust is deep brown and thick, about 5 to 6 hours total. Serve immediately.

Mar 012016


Today is National Pig Day one of many pseudo-holidays held in the United States to celebrate the pig. The holiday celebration was started in 1972 by sisters Ellen Stanley, a teacher in Lubbock, Texas, and Mary Lynne Rave of Beaufort, North Carolina. According to Rave the purpose of National Pig Day is “to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man’s most intellectual and domesticated animals.” The holiday is most often celebrated in the Midwest where pig farming is extensive. Seems like a suitable holiday on which to indulge my ramblings.

National Pig Day includes events at zoos, schools, nursing homes, and sporting events around the United States. It is also recognized at “pig parties” where pink pig punch and pork delicacies are served, and pink ribbon pigtails are tied around trees in the pig’s honor. According to Chase’s Calendar of Events, National Pig Day is on the same day as pseudo-holidays Share a Smile day and Peanut Butter Lover’s day, so take your pick if you don’t like pigs. The question of whether the holiday is a time to honor pigs by “giving them a break” or to appreciate their offerings is an open question.


Archaeological evidence suggests that pigs were domesticated from wild boar as early as 13,000–12,700 BCE in the Near East in the Tigris Basin being managed in the wild in a way similar to the way they are managed by some modern New Guineans. Remains of pigs have been dated to earlier than 11,400 BCE in Cyprus. Those animals must have been introduced from the mainland, which suggests domestication in the adjacent mainland by then. There was a separate domestication in China which took place about 8000 years ago. DNA evidence from sub-fossil remains of teeth and jawbones of Neolithic pigs shows that the first domestic pigs in Europe had been brought from the Near East. This stimulated the domestication of local European wild boar resulting in a third domestication event with the Near Eastern genes dying out in European pig stock.

The adaptable nature and omnivorous diet of the wild boar allowed early humans to domesticate it readily. Pigs were mostly used for food, but early civilizations also used the pigs’ hides for shields, bones for tools and weapons, and bristles for brushes. In many parts of Asia, pigs have been domesticated for a long time for pig toilets. Though ecologically logical as well as economical, pig toilets are waning in popularity as use of septic tanks and sewage systems is increasing in rural areas.


A pig toilet (sometimes called a “pig sty latrine”) is a simple type of dry toilet consisting of an outhouse mounted over a pig sty, with a chute or hole connecting the two. The pigs consume the feces of the users of the toilet. Pig toilets were once common in rural China, where a single Chinese ideogram (Chinese: 圂; pinyin: hùn) signifies both “pigsty” and “privy”. These arrangements have been strongly discouraged by the Chinese authorities in recent years; although as late as 2005, they could still be found in remote northern provinces.

Pigs were brought to southeastern North America from Europe by de Soto and other early Spanish explorers. Escaped pigs became feral and caused a great deal of disruption to Native Americans, who had no domesticated livestock. Domestic pigs have become feral in many other parts of the world (e.g. New Zealand and northern Queensland) and have caused substantial environmental damage.

Pork is a well-known example of a non-kosher food. This prohibition is based on Leviticus 11:2–4, 7–8 (as well as Deuteronomy chapter 14):

These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the animals that are upon the land. Everything that possesses a split hoof, which is fully cloven, and that brings up its cud—this you may eat. But this is what you shall not eat from what brings up its cud or possesses split hooves—the camel, because it brings up its cud but does not possess split hooves…and the pig, because it has split hooves that are completely cloven, but it does not bring up its cud—it is impure to you and from its flesh you may not eat.

Why pork was prohibited in ancient Israel is a source of ongoing debate. When undercooked pork was discovered in the 19th century to be a cause of the parasite trichinosis, many scholars jumped on this fact as the principal reason for the pork taboo in ancient times. But this is a lame argument. Animal borne diseases such as salmonella (chicken) or anthrax (beef) are much more virulent and harder to get rid of. Trichinosis can easily be avoided by cooking the pork properly.

Structural anthropologists, such as Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, have argued that the taboo comes from ancient Israelite cultural categories propounded in Genesis. Israelite cosmology adamantly believed in the existence of three zones – land, sea, and sky – that were created by God during creation and should be kept separate. Not only that, each zone has animals that truly “belong” and those that do not. Fish (with fins and scales), for example, belong in the sea because they swim and can breath underwater. Lobsters do not belong because they walk on the bottom. Amphibians that can live in water and on land are an abomination. In this cosmology, sheep and goats belong and pigs do not, because the former eat grass (land food), but pigs eat everything.


Marvin Harris in Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches takes up a more ecological argument. Why, he asks, do some cultures despise pigs, while others, such as people in highland New Guinea, love them? For the ancient Israelites, he argues, sheep and goats were environmentally beneficial, but pigs were destructive. The core lands of ancient Judah (around Jerusalem) are hilly and difficult to farm. Sheep and goats can be grazed in mountainous regions that are not suitable for arable, eating herbage, and, therefore, turning otherwise unusable land into meat, milk, and bone. Pigs can’t do this. They have to be kept in urban environments.

I have spent a lot of energy asking the question why city-dwelling Jewish priests in Jerusalem despised cities and loved mountain herders, and, in brief, I think the answer lies in Israel and Judah’s constant subjugation to multicultural cities in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. I think I can combine Douglas’ and Harris’ ideas, therefore. In part I think they are both right. Jerusalem priests wanted to be left alone and were afraid of assimilation into these vast multicultural empires in which their ethnic identity would be lost. This led to a theology that valued the separation of different things – which included animals, types of cloth, peoples etc. The word “separate” in Hebrew (qadosh) and “holy” are the same. Multicultural cities were evil; the wilderness of shepherds was good. Great leaders such as Abraham, Jacob, and David kept herds. They dwelt in lands that made them tough and fierce fighters. Cities bred arrogance and sloth. Pigs were the food of city dwellers and symbolized their habits: dirty, greedy, and slothful.

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

Be that as it may, pork is incredibly versatile. I couldn’t even begin to list the food products containing pork – sausages, hams, bacon, etc., never mind chitterlings, pork rind, trotters, boar’s head . . . and on and on. Lard is a great medium to fry in and makes superb pastry. I won’t go on. This site is a fairly broad listing of pork dishes around the world – enough to make you salivate.


Ok, OK, pork fat is not tremendously good for your arteries. I get it. But, as with all foods that can be harmful, moderation is the key. Four years ago I moved from Argentina which has the lowest per capita consumption of pork of countries where pork is not taboo, to China which has the highest consumption. Even so, Argentina was the first country where I found pork kidneys for sale in markets, and they were delectable. In China I could have drowned in pork. If you ask for “meat” (肉: ròu) in a restaurant you’ll invariably get pork.

I won’t prejudice you with a recipe. You pick – lentils with ham hocks or pig’s trotters, prosciutto, a BLT, black pudding, chicharrones, pork pie

. . . have at it. Here’s a small gallery:

pigb piga  pigcpigdpigepigf

Jan 032016


Today is the birthday of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order (lower than patricians, but not plebeians), and is widely considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists.

His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose in not only Latin but European languages up to the 19th century was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style. According to Michael Grant, “the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language.” Big words. Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary (with neologisms such as humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia) distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

When I was studying for the Advanced-Level exam in Latin in the sixth form in England I was required to write a Latin prose piece every week (which I hated), and it always had to be in the style of Cicero. Emulation of Cicero was so exacting that if I needed to use a new word, I had to look it up in an historical Latin dictionary and could use it ONLY if Cicero had (an ideal dating back to the humanist scholars of the Renaissance). All Latin, both before and after Cicero, was considered inferior by my teachers and the examiners. To tell the truth, I found Cicero dull and pedantic, and still do. I was happier with the likes of Virgil and Juvenal, because they dealt with battles and farming and feasting, not politics and rhetoric. I was even happier with Greek poetry and literature which just seemed to have more flow than their Latin counterparts. But I’ll give Cicero his due. He took an extremely workaday language and added some sparkles to enliven it – in the end, a lost cause in my humble and ignorant opinion.


Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance in public affairs, humanism, and classical Roman culture. Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński wrote, “Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity.” We need to be measured here, though. The philosophy of Plato and Aristotle were of much greater importance than that of Cicero, but Cicero opened the window through which his betters could be viewed. The peak of Cicero’s authority and prestige came during the 18th century, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and Montesquieu was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for Roman history, especially the last days of the Roman Republic.


Though he was an accomplished orator and successful lawyer, Cicero believed his political career was his most important achievement. It was during his consulship that Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina) and his co-conspirators attempted to overthrow the government through an attack on the city by outside forces. Cicero suppressed the revolt by executing five conspirators without due process (commonplace in Rome).

During the chaotic latter half of the 1st century BCE, marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to traditional republican government. Following Julius Caesar’s death Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and consequently executed by soldiers operating on their behalf in 43 BCE after having been intercepted during attempted flight from the Italian peninsula. His severed hands and head were then, as a final act of revenge by Mark Antony, displayed in the Roman Forum. Octavian, Caesar’s heir and later the first emperor, Augustus, is believed to have argued vehemently against the proscription, but ultimately conceded to Mark Antony’s wishes. However when Octavian subsequently turned on, and defeated, Mark Antony, he showed deep remorse for his part in Cicero’s death, and tried to make amends by protecting and supporting his son (Marcus Minor) despite the latter’s ever-changing political views.


My assessment here of Cicero’s legacy, while derivative, is fair, I believe, although perhaps tainted slightly by the years I spent laboring over his speeches as a teenager. Cicero has been traditionally considered the master of Latin prose, with Quintilian declaring that Cicero was “not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself.” Julius Caesar praised Cicero’s achievement by saying “it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit (ingenium) than the frontiers of the Roman empire.” According to John William Mackail, “Cicero’s unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which nineteen centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered.”

Cicero wrote a great deal on a variety of subjects. His writing was readily available and widely used in schools in classical antiquity, and, because of its fame, survived into the modern world with a relatively small percentage lost. A graffito found at Pompeii states, “You will like Cicero, or you will be whipped” – work of a disgruntled student, no doubt. Cicero was greatly admired by influential Church Fathers such as Augustine of Hippo, who credited Cicero’s lost Hortensius for his eventual conversion to Christianity, and St. Jerome, who had a feverish vision in which he was accused of being “follower of Cicero and not of Christ” before the judgment seat. This influence further increased after the Early Middle Ages in Europe, which more of his writings survived than any other Latin author. Medieval philosophers were influenced by Cicero’s writings on natural law and innate rights. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters provided impetus for searches for ancient Greek and Latin writings scattered throughout European monasteries, and the subsequent rediscovery of Classical Antiquity led, in part, to the Renaissance.

His voluminous correspondence, much of it addressed to his friend Atticus, has been especially influential, introducing the art of refined letter writing to European culture. Cornelius Nepos, the 1st century BCE biographer of Atticus, remarked that Cicero’s letters contained such a wealth of detail “concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals, and the revolutions in the government” that their reader had little need for a history of the period. Following the invention of the printing press, De Officiis was the second book to be printed, after the Gutenberg Bible. Historians also note Cicero’s influence on the rebirth of religious toleration in the 17th century.


While Cicero the humanist deeply influenced the culture of the Renaissance, Cicero the republican inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution. John Adams said of him “As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.” Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of “the common sense” basis for the right of revolution. Camille Desmoulins said of the French republicans in 1789 that they were “mostly young people who, nourished by the reading of Cicero at school, had become passionate enthusiasts for liberty.”

On the other hand, no other ancient personality has inspired as much venomous dislike as Cicero, especially in more modern times. His commitment to the values of the Republic accommodated a hatred of the poor and persistent opposition to the advocates and mechanisms of popular representation. Friedrich Engels referred to him as “the most contemptible scoundrel in history” for upholding republican “democracy” while at the same time denouncing land and class reforms. Cicero has faced criticism for exaggerating the democratic qualities of republican Rome, and for defending the Roman oligarchy against the popular reforms of Caesar. Michael Parenti admits Cicero’s abilities as an orator, but finds him a vain, pompous and hypocritical personality who, when it suited him, could show public support for popular causes that he privately despised. Parenti presents Cicero’s prosecution of the Catiline conspiracy as legally flawed at the very least, and possibly unlawful. I have no trouble seeing Cicero as vain, arrogant and self serving. The First Catiline Oration is a model of pompous self-aggrandizement. He suffered the fate that all politicians deserve who switch allegiance based on self interest rather than principle. No doubt his defenders will disagree.


By default I turn, as always, to Apicius’ De re coquinaria for a Roman recipe. No doubt Cicero would shudder at the Latin in this cookbook written several centuries after his death in what is basically street Latin of the 4th or 5th century. You can get the gist without much trouble (assuming you read Latin), but there are obscure words in the text, and the precise nature of some ingredients is obscure. Here are a couple of recipes for sausages that could easily fit into the modern Italian kitchen. Modern cooks use SE Asian fermented fish sauce as a substitute for liquamen. Laser is an unknown ingredient although it is conjectured that it was asafoetida. From Apicius we know that laser was extremely expensive, but prized in cooking. I’d go with asafoetida as a substitute. My translations here are not terribly literal, but I hope they get the point across. Sausage making has not changed a whole lot in two millenia.

First is a recipe for brain sausage. Brains continue to be used for stuffed pastas in Italy, and I have made such quite often. Using brains as a stuffing, rather than “as is,” tends to soften the outcries of the squeamish. I parboil the brains when I use them, and prefer a meat grinder or food processor to a mortar. The method of boiling then frying sausages is one I use.


Ova et cerebella teres, nucleos pineos, piper, liquamen, laser modicum, et his intestinum implebis. Elixas, postea assas et inferes.


Pound eggs and brains, pine nuts, pepper, liquamen and a little laser, and use this mix to fill your casings (intestines). Boil the sausages, then fry them and serve.

Lucanian sausages are highly seasoned and then smoked. Use of ground fatty pork as the main ingredient has to be inferred because the text is not clear. Here’s an image of one of my efforts (using a big casing).



Lucanicas similiter ut supra scriptum est: Lucanicarum confectio teritur piper, cuminum, satureia, ruta, petroselinum, condimentum, bacae lauri, liquamen, et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur. Cum liquamine admixto, pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies in intestinum perquam tenuatim perductum, et sic ad fumum suspenditur.

Lucanian sausages

Lucanian sausages are made in the same way as above: grind up pepper, cumin, savory, rue, parsley, condiment [condimentum], laurel berries and liquamen. Make sure the paste [pulpa] is thoroughly mixed and blended [with minced pork]. To this mixture add whole peppercorns and nuts, fill your casings, and hang the sausages to smoke.

Aug 202015


Today is World Mosquito Day, created on 20 August 1897, marking a world changing discovery made by Sir Ronald Ross, a British doctor working in India who first made the link that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. On making this breakthrough on this date, Ross declared that it should be known as World Mosquito Day henceforth. Ross went on to become the first British person to be awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1902.

Ross’s discovery laid the foundations for scientists to better understand the deadly role of mosquitoes which currently infect 250 million people with malaria every year, causing 850,000 deaths. World Mosquito Day is still a little known celebration, but given the global importance of eradication of malaria it should be better known.


Females of most mosquito species are ectoparasites, whose tube-like mouthparts. or proboscis, pierce the hosts’ skin to consume blood. Thousands of species feed on the blood of various kinds of hosts, mainly vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even some kinds of fish. Some mosquitoes also attack invertebrates, mainly arthropods. Though the loss of blood is seldom of any importance to the victim, the saliva of the mosquito often causes an irritating rash that is a serious nuisance. Much more serious though, are the roles of many species of mosquitoes as vectors of diseases. In passing from host to host, some transmit extremely harmful infections such as malaria, yellow fever, west nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, and other arboviruses, making it the deadliest animal in the world.

Various species of mosquitoes are estimated to transmit various types of disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia, and much of Asia, with millions of resultant deaths. At least two million people annually die of these diseases, and the morbidity rates are many times higher still. Effective control is a major health concern. There are various methods:

Personal protection

Fortunately mosquitoes don’t like me apparently because I don’t have any of the usual attractors. The feeding preferences of mosquitoes include those with type O blood, heavy breathers, those with a lot of skin bacteria, people with a lot of body heat, and pregnant women. Individuals’ attractiveness to mosquitoes also has a heritable, genetically-controlled component. If you do suffer, repellants and mosquito nets work.

Source reduction

Since many mosquitoes breed in standing water, source reduction can be as simple as emptying water from containers around the home. This is something that homeowners can accomplish. For example, homeowners can eliminate mosquito breeding grounds by removing unused plastic pools, old tires, or buckets; by clearing clogged gutters and repairing leaks around faucets; by regularly (at least every 4 days) changing water in bird baths; and by filling or draining puddles, swampy areas, and tree stumps. Eliminating such mosquito breeding areas can be an extremely effective and permanent way to reduce mosquito populations without resorting to insecticides. However, this may not be possible in parts of the developing world where water cannot be readily replaced due to irregular water supply.


Biological control or “biocontrol” is the use of natural enemies to manage mosquito populations. There are several types of biological control including the direct introduction of parasites, pathogens and predators to target mosquitoes. Effective biocontrol agents include predatory fish that feed on mosquito larvae such as mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) and some cyprinids (carps and minnows) and killifish. Tilapia also consume mosquito larvae. Direct introduction of tilapia and mosquitofish into ecosystems around the world have had disastrous consequences. However, utilizing a controlled system via aquaponics provides the mosquito control without the adverse effects to the ecosystem.


Other predators include dragonfly naiads, which consume mosquito larvae in the breeding waters, adult dragonflies, which eat adult mosquitoes and some species of lizard and gecko.

Dead spores of the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, especially Bt israelensis (BTI) interfere with larval digestive systems. It can be dispersed by hand or dropped by helicopter in large areas. BTI loses effectiveness after the larvae turn into pupae, because they stop eating. Two species of fungi can kill adult mosquitoes: Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana.Oil drip

An oil drip can or oil drip barrel was a common and nontoxic antimosquito measure. The thin layer of oil on top of the water prevents mosquito breeding in two ways:[ mosquito larvae in the water cannot penetrate the oil film with their breathing tube, and so drown and die; also adult mosquitoes do not lay eggs on the oiled water.


Control of adult mosquitoes is the most familiar aspect of mosquito control to most of the public. It is accomplished by ground-based applications or via aerial application of residual chemical insecticides. Generally modern mosquito-control programs in developed countries use low-volume applications of insecticides, although some programs may still use thermal fogging.


DDT was formerly used throughout the world for large area mosquito control, but it is now banned in most developed countries. DDT remains in common use in many developing countries (14 countries were reported to be using it in 2009), which claim that the public-health cost of switching to other control methods would exceed the harm caused by using DDT. It is sometimes approved for use only in specific, limited circumstances where it is most effective, such as application to walls.

The role of DDT in combating mosquitoes has been the subject of considerable controversy. Although DDT has been proven to affect biodiversity and cause eggshell thinning in birds such as the bald eagle, some say that DDT is the most effective weapon in combating mosquitoes, and hence malaria. While some of this disagreement is based on differences in the extent to which disease control is valued as opposed to the value of biodiversity, there is also genuine disagreement amongst experts about the costs and benefits of using DDT.

Notwithstanding, DDT-resistant mosquitoes have started to increase in numbers, especially in tropics due to mutations, reducing the effectiveness of this chemical; these mutations can rapidly spread over vast areas if pesticides are applied indiscriminately. In areas where DDT resistance is encountered, malathion, propoxur or lindane are used.


There’s no question that blood should be the culinary ingredient of the day. In looking back I see that I have made reference to blood in recipes a few times; now it’s time for the full monty. Many cultures consume blood as food, often in combination with meat. The blood may be in the form of blood sausage (the most common), as a thickener for sauces, a cured salted form for times of food scarcity, or in a blood soup. Culinary blood comes from domesticated animals, obtained at a place and time where the blood can run into a container and be swiftly consumed or processed. In many cultures the animal is slaughtered, in others it is bled and remains alive. In some cultures, blood is a taboo food.

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Blood sausage, or black pudding, is any sausage made by cooking animal blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. Pig or cattle blood is most often used. Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, rice, barley and oatmeal. Varieties include drisheen, moronga, black pudding, blutwurst, blood tongue, kishka (kaszanka), biroldo, morcilla, mustamakkara, verivorst, and many types of boudin. Blood sausage is found worldwide. Black pudding is a great favorite in the U.K. as part of the full English breakfast. In Argentina and China it is commonly found grilled.


Blood pancakes are found in Galicia (filloas), Scandinavia, and the Baltic; for example, Swedish blodplättar, Finnish veriohukainen, and Estonian veripannkoogid. There’s a video here on Swedish blood pancakes in English (with a fair amount of swearing!).


You’ll see that blood pancakes are like regular pancakes – a mix of egg flour and mix – only some of the fluid is blood which darkens and thickens the batter when cooked. Could be good with blood sausage.

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Blood soups and stews, which use blood as part of the broth, include czernina, dinuguan, haejangguk, mykyrokka, pig’s organ soup, tiet canh and svartsoppa. Spartan warriors going into battle reputedly ate blood soup for strength and courage. Such soups are most often found in eastern Europe and SE Asia.

Blood is also used as a thickener in sauces, such as in traditional coq au vin or pressed duck, and puddings, such as tiết canh. It can provide flavor or color for meat, as in cabidela.


Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning, the blood is fried with onions and served for breakfast. In China, “blood tofu” is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food.

In some cases, blood is used as an ingredient without any additional preparation. Raw blood is not commonly consumed by itself, but may be used as an addition to drinks or other dishes. One example is the drinking of seal blood which is traditionally believed by the Inuit to bring health benefits.

Consumption of blood as a nutrient is forbidden in Islam and Judaism, and in many cultures meat that is considered “bloody” (such as rare or raw beef) is thought unfit for consumption. In the Greek Bible, blood was forbidden by Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-21).

Feb 102014


The St Scholastica Day riot of 10 February 1355, is one of the most notorious events in the history of Oxford. The seed of the riot was an altercation in the Swindlestock Tavern (now the site of the Santander Bank on Carfax, on the corner of St Aldate’s and Queen Street) between two students of the university, Walter Spryngeheuse and Roger de Chesterfield, and the landlord, John Croidon. They complained about the quality of the beer, which led to an exchange of rude words that ended with the students throwing their drinks in the landlord’s face and assaulting him. Retaliation for this incident led to armed clashes between locals and students.

The mayor of Oxford, John de Bereford, asked the chancellor of Oxford University, Humphrey de Cherlton, to arrest the two students, but he refused. Instead, 200 students supported Spryngeheuse and Chesterfield, allegedly assaulted the mayor and others. As the situation escalated, locals from the surrounding countryside poured in, crying: “Havoc! Havoc! Smyt fast, give gode knocks!”

A riot broke out and lasted two days, which left 63 scholars and perhaps 30 locals dead. The scholars were eventually defeated. The dispute was settled in favor of the university – big surprise – by the courts, and a special charter was created. Annually thereafter, on 10 February the saint’s day of St Scholastica, the mayor and councilors had to march bareheaded through the streets and pay to the university a fine of one penny for every scholar killed, a total of 5s 3d. The penance ended 470 years later, in 1825 when the mayor refused to take part. In an act of conciliation on 10 February 1955, the Mayor was given an honorary degree and the Vice-Chancellor was made an Honorary Freeman, at a commemoration of the events of 1355.

I wish I could say that town and gown tensions are over in Oxford.  In my day they were alive and well; I had to step lively more than once.  I imagine they still are.  I was rather stuck in the middle because I was an undergraduate at Pembroke College, but also had a great many maternal relatives who lived in the town, including my dear cousin Peter (R.I.P) who was the boatman and rowing coach at Pembroke (and for the dark blues for a time).   I rowed bow oar for one of our eights. Rather like being a galley slave.

As a small aside, Carfax where the riot began is Middle English for “four corners” — the center of Oxford where Queen street, St Aldates, St Giles, and High street meet.

Here’s  a recipe for Oxford sausages.  Should be served as part of a full English breakfast – fried egg, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, fried tomatoes and either toast or fried bread.  Preferably the latter. You must have Oxford marmalade too. Don’t knock English cooking.  Otherwise I will haunt you.


Oxford Sausages


500g/1lb 2oz minced pork
500g/1lb 2oz minced lamb
350g/12oz shredded suet
225g/8oz fresh breadcrumbs
2 lemons, zest only
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves
1 free-range egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
plain flour, for dusting
50g/2oz goose fat, butter or oil, for frying


Place the minced pork and lamb, suet, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, nutmeg and herbs into a large bowl and mix well to combine. Add the egg and mix to bind.

Dust the work surface and your hands lightly with flour, then pinch off a small ball of the sausage mixture and roll into a sausage shape. Repeat with the remaining sausage mixture.

Heat a frying pan until smoking, then add the goose fat. Add the sausages to the pan, in small batches, and fry over a medium-low heat for 6-8 minutes, turning the sausages over every so often, until golden-brown and cooked through.