Oct 252015


On this date in 1979 the Gernika Statute, which was approved by a majority in a referendum, made the Basque region of NW Spain autonomous. Nowadays it is one of the most decentralized regions in the world; in this regard it has been described as having “more autonomy than just about any other in Europe” by The Economist. The forerunner of the Gernika Statute was the short-lived Statute of Autonomy for Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay, which came to be enforced in October 1936 just in Biscay, with the Spanish Civil War already raging, and which was automatically abolished when the Spanish Nationalist troops occupied the territory. Before the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and its system of autonomous communities, these three provinces were known in Spanish as the Provincias Vascongadas since 1833. The political structure of the new autonomous community is defined in the Gernika Statute.


Concerning the limits of the Spanish Constitution, Basque nationalists cite the fact that in the 1978 Spanish Constitution referendum, which was passed with a majority of votes and a poor turnout in this area, the Basque Country had the highest rate of abstention (the Basque Nationalist Party had endorsed abstention on the grounds that the Constitution was being forced upon them without any Basque input). To this, the “NO” vote in this referendum was also higher in the Basque Country than in the rest of the state. All in all, many Basques believe that they are not bound to a constitution that they never endorsed.

The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country is an organic law, but powers have been devolving gradually over decades based on re-negotiations between the Spanish and the Basque regional governments to reach an effective implementation, while the transfer of many powers are still forthcoming, a matter of heated political discussion. Basque nationalists often attribute this limitation in the devolution of powers to concessions made to appease the military involved in the 23-F coup d’état attempt (1981).


The statute was meant to encompass all the historical provinces inhabited by the Basque people in Spain, who had demonstrated a strong will for the acknowledgement of a separate Basque identity and status, even in non Basque nationalist circles. However, the statute’s original blueprint came up against strong opposition in Navarre (Unión del Pueblo Navarro party founded) and rightist and nationalist circles of the still Francoist central administration. At the beginning of the 1980s the Spanish Socialist party and their regional branch too swerved to a Navarre-only stance, paving the way to a separate autonomous community.

However, the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country retained in its wording the spirit of the original blueprint, namely allowing the necessary means for the development in liberty of the Basque people, while now limited only to the western Álava, Gipuzkoa and Biscay provinces. The possibility of Navarre joining in is anyway emphasized and provisioned for, insomuch as they are identified as Basque people, should that be their will.

It established a system of parliamentary government, in which the president (chief of government) or lehendakari is elected by the Basque Autonomous Parliament among its members. Election of the Parliament is by universal suffrage and parliament consists of 75 deputies, 25 from each of the three Historic Territories of the community. The parliament is vested with powers over a broad variety of areas, including agriculture, industry; from culture, arts and libraries, to tax collection, policing, and transportation. Basque (as a right) and Spanish (as a right and duty) are official languages.


The equal representation of the provinces regardless of actual population was a wink to Alava and Navarre, the least populated and least prone to Basque nationalism of the provinces. However the Navarrese society seems content with its current Amejoramiento del Fuero’

Up to early 19th century, the Basque districts maintained a great degree of self-government under their charters (they came to be known as the Exempt Provinces), i.e. they held a different status from other areas within the Crown of Castile/Spain, involving taxes and customs, separate military conscription, etc.), operating almost autonomously.

After the First Carlist War (1833-1839), home rule was abolished and substituted by the Compromise Act (Ley Paccionada) in Navarre (1841) and a diminished chartered regime in the three western provinces (up to 1876). After the definite abolition of the Charters (end of Third Carlist War), former laws and customs were largely absorbed into Spanish centralist rule with little regard for regional idiosyncrasies. As a result, attempts were made by Carlists, Basque nationalists and some liberal forces in the Basque region of Spain to establish a collaboration among them and restore some kind of self-empowerment (“autonomy”), while the Catalans developed their own Catalan Commonwealth.


Attempts at a unified Basque statute including Navarre were repeatedly postponed until the occasion seemed to have arrived at the onset of the Second Spanish Republic with an statute for the four Basque provinces. A draft Basque Statute was approved by all four provinces (1931), but Carlists were divided, and the 1931 draft Statute of Estella did not achieve enough support, against a backdrop of heated controversy over the validity of the votes, as well as allegations of strong pressures on local representatives to tip the scale against the unitarian option (Assembly of Pamplona, 1932).

Following the works started for the Basque Statute, another proposal was eventually approved by the government of the Spanish Republic, already awash in the Civil War, this time only including the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Álava. Its effectivity was limited to the Republic-controlled areas of Biscay and a fringe of Gipuzkoa.

After the surrendering of the Basque Army in 1937, the statute was abolished. However, Francisco Franco allowed the continuation of a limited self-government for Alava and Navarre, thanking their support for the Spanish Nationalist uprising.


Basque autonomy represents a microcosm of the struggles of ethnic groups within Europe. I have written many times here about this situation. For centuries Europe was, and is, torn by opposing ideologies. On the one hand, states and empires sought hegemonic control over large territories that encompassed a range of ethnic and linguistic minorities. Even now there is no state within Europe that is unicultural, although a few come close. Some are inherently pluralistic without even considering recent waves of immigrants. Spain is a classic example. It was originally manufactured out of individual kingdoms whose languages and cultures are quite distinct. Spanish language differences are bad enough – the dialects are much more diverse within Spain than between other Spanish dialects worldwide. Though I speak Argentine Spanish, I can understand Chileans, Filipinos, Peruvians, etc. easily enough, but I have no hope with Catalonians or Galicians. Add Basque to the mix. It is a language isolate, totally unrelated to Indo-European languages, or any other language family for that matter.

On the other hand, these individual cultural and linguistic groups have sought independence from state and imperial hegemonic power. The European Union is merely the latest in a series of unifying powers aimed at bringing a vast region under one government (sort of). Counter to this are Basques, Scots, etc. who want autonomy and self identity. Not everyone is happy with the situation, but the creation of an autonomous Basque Country within both Spain and Europe seems to be a reasonable model.

The Basques may have more recipes for variety meats than any other culture. They delight in tripe, sweetbreads, heart, oxtail, tongue — you name it. This derives from their traditional occupation as shepherds in the high Pyrenees (and subsequently in the American West). As is true of so many peasant cultures of Europe, the herders raised the animals and sold the fine muscle meats, but got to keep the less desirable organ and scrap meats for themselves. Yet, a cuisine born of necessity can, nonetheless, produce magnificent dishes. Many fine Basque stews like this one have a base of tomatoes, onions, and green peppers. The sauce is reminiscent of the taste of gazpacho, tangy with the olive oil and peppers, so be sure to use the most flavorful olive oil you can find. I cook this stew over two days, simmering the tripe on the first day, and adding the vegetables on the second. Like many stews of this type, the preparation is rather simple. The key to success is long, long, slow cooking. This dish is best served with plain boiled rice and a big loaf of crusty bread.


Basque Stewed Tripe


3 lbs honeycomb tripe
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion diced
1 green pepper diced
2 tablespoons garlic finely chopped
1/4 cup of finely chopped green chiles
1lb fresh or canned (drained) sauce tomatoes peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
beef stock


Simmer the tripe in rich beef stock for about 1 hour, or until it is fork tender but not soft, and then let it cool in the broth (preferably in the refrigerator overnight). Remove the tripe from the broth and cut it into bite size hunks. Skim the fat from the broth and return it to the heat to warm through. Gently heat the olive oil in a large skillet or heavy bottomed saucepan capable of accommodating all the stew ingredients comfortably.   Sauté the green pepper and onions in the oil until they are soft. Add the tomatoes, green chiles, parsley, and garlic and continue to sauté gently for 5 minutes. Add three cups of the warmed broth and the tripe, and simmer very slowly, uncovered, for one hour. The sauce will thicken considerably in this time. There is no harm in extra cooking if the sauce appears too thin. Essentially, the longer the cooking the better (if the sauce gets too thick add a little more broth).

Serves 6


Jul 282015

NPG P1825; Beatrix Potter (Mrs Heelis) by Charles King

Today is the birthday (1866) of Helen Beatrix Potter, English author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which celebrated the British landscape and country life. Potter was born into a wealthy Unitarian family. She and her younger brother Walter Bertram (1872–1918) grew up with few friends outside their large extended family. Her parents were artistic, interested in nature, and enjoyed the countryside. As children, Beatrix and Bertram had numerous small animals as pets which they observed closely and drew endlessly. Summer holidays were spent away from London, in Scotland and in the English Lake District where Beatrix developed a love of the natural world which was the subject of her painting from an early age.


She was educated by private governesses until she was 18. Her study of languages, literature, science, and history was broad and she was an eager student. Her artistic talents were recognized early. She enjoyed private art lessons and developed her own style, favoring watercolor. She illustrated insects, fossils, archaeological artifacts, and fungi, along with her drawings of her animals, real and imagined.

In the 1890s, her mycological illustrations and research into the reproduction of fungus spores generated interest from the scientific establishment. Following some success illustrating cards and booklets, Potter wrote and illustrated The Tale of Peter Rabbit, publishing it first privately in 1901, and a year later as a small, three-color illustrated book with Frederick Warne & Co. She became unofficially engaged to her editor Norman Warne in 1905, despite the disapproval of her parents, but he died suddenly a month later of leukemia.

With the proceeds from the books and a legacy from an aunt, Potter bought Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, a tiny village, then in Lancashire, in the English Lake District near Windermere, in 1905. Over the following decades, she bought additional farms to preserve the unique hill country landscape. In 1913, at the age of 47, she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from Hawkshead.


Potter was also a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a prosperous farmer keenly interested in land preservation. She continued to write and illustrate, and to design spin-off merchandise based on her children’s books for Warne, until the duties of land management and her diminishing eyesight made it difficult to continue.


Potter published over 23 books; the best known are those written between 1902 and 1922. She died of pneumonia and heart disease on 22 December 1943 at her home in Near Sawrey at age 77, leaving almost all her property to the National Trust. She is credited with preserving much of the land that now makes up the Lake District National Park.

Often I try to dig a little deeper into lesser known aspects of the subject I am posting on, so I am going to leave Peter Rabbit behind and focus a bit on Potter’s interest in mycology. Few people know that she was quite the expert on fungi and well ahead of some of the leaders in the field in her day even though she was an amateur. Independently of German and English botanists she succeeded in germinating spores of a number of species. With the assistance of her uncle, Sir Henry Roscoe FRS, a renowned chemist, she got an introduction to George Massee, the mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Massee tried to dismiss her investigations, but in communicating with him she realized that her work was more advanced than his in the area of germination.

Her uncle suggested that she write a paper on her findings to present to the botanists at Kew, but she was hesitant as seen in her letter to William Thistleton-Dyer, director of Kew gardens:

I do not quite like to give the paper to Mr Massee because I am afraid I have rather contradicted him. Uncle Harry is satisfied with my way of working but we wish very much that someone would take it up at Kew to try it, if they do not believe my drawings. Mr Massee took objection to my slides, but the things exist, and will be all done by the Germans.

I am not sure whether it was her natural shyness, or her unwillingness to stand up – an amateur, and a woman to boot – before a group of skeptical men, but she backed out of presenting her work when offered the chance in December 1896. She did, however, see Thistleton-Dyer later, who proved to be patronizing and dismissive, and then visited Massee whom she said “had come round altogether and was prepared to believe my new thing.” Subsequently he was most supportive.

Her uncle then arranged to have her findings presented to the Linnean Society of London. He helped her with her writing and Potter wrote in her journal that he showed “a real interest in the business, and an immense amount of trouble in trying to understand the botanical part, and showing how to mend my Paper.” In February 1897 she wrote:

I have grown between 40 and 50 sorts of spore, but I think I shall send in only A. velutipes, which I have grown twice and Mr Massee has also grown according to my direction at Kew … but unless I can get a good slide actually sprouting it seems useless to send it to the Linnaean

A. velutipes is now designated as Flammulina velutipes but in Potter’s time went by the name Agaricus velutipes. (Agaricus was then used as the genus for mushrooms).

Massee submitted the paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae”, to the Linnean Society, which was a men-only affair, and was read on 1 April 1897 was the reading of the paper the word Agaricineae being another term for mushrooms. No one knows what the response to the paper was or where it ended up. There are no copies extant either in the Linnean’s archives or Potter’s private papers. No one even knows what the paper reported although there is still much speculation. Here is a gallery of Potter’s watercolors of fungi.

bp12 bp10 bp9 bp7 bp6 bp5 bp4 bp3 bp2

It would seem natural to present a recipe on mushrooms, of which I have a plethora. Yunnan, where I now live, is paradise for the mushroom cook, especially at this time of year. There are literally hundreds of types of wild and domesticated mushrooms available in local markets. Not a day goes by without me adding one or more kinds of mushroom to my dishes. No doubt Potter ate them too, although she does not mention them as food. She does, however, say that she was partial to hearty vegetable soups made with ingredients from her kitchen garden. In the end, though, I have settled on a classic Lake District lamb dish as a tribute to her labors as a sheep breeder.

The Lake District is noted for many delectable foods, some of which are hard to find outside the region. There is Kendal Mint Cake, Cumberland sausage, Grasmere gingerbread, cheeses galore, plus the famed Cumberland sauce. Here is Herdwick lamb cobbler which ought to be made with Herdwick lamb, (which Potter bred). The “cobbler” bit comes from the scones on top (please try to pronounce it /skonn/). I am dismayed to find I have yet to provide a recipes for scones: I will, eventually (eventually = https://www.bookofdaystales.com/my-sisters-birthday/ ).


Herdwick Lamb Cobbler

2 lb shoulder of lamb, diced
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
salt and pepper
1 large leek, chopped
1 small turnip, peeled and diced
1 celeriac, peeled and diced
lamb or veal stock
1 oz pearl barley (optional)
2 oz plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
oil for frying
8 scones


Gently sauté the herbs and vegetables in a deep, heavy skillet in a little vegetable oil until they have softened a little. Add them to a heavy-bottomed cooking pot.

Roll the lamb in the seasoned flour and brown on all sides. Add to the vegetables. Add the barley (if used). Cover with stock, bring to a gentle simmer, partly cover, and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the lamb is tender. Watch the pot now and again, giving it a stir to avoid sticking, and topping with stock if it gets too dry. In the end the sauce should be quite thick.

Turn the meat and vegetables into an oven-proof casserole, dot with whole or halved scones and bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes.

Serve with a pint of Jennings bitter (or any of the beers from Cumbria’s 30 breweries).