Apr 032019
 

Today is the birthday (1778) of Pierre-Fidèle Bretonneau, a French physician who was a pioneer in many ways.  He was born in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, in the Loir-et-Cher département. His father was a surgeon. He studied with his uncle, the vicar at Chenonceaux (Indre-et-Loire) department along with the children of the Chenonceau château. Madame Dupin, the grandmother of George Sand, financed his medical studies in Paris. He married a protégé of Madame Dupin and settled in Renaudière in Chenonceaux (the Renaudière is currently a restaurant and hotel). He had a laboratory at his disposal and occupied himself with gardening in his spare time.

Bretonneau was the mayor of Chenonceaux from 1803 to 1807. He spent 15 years in Chenonceaux gaining experience, wrote his thesis in medicine in 1815, and then became medical director at the hospital in Tours; which currently bears his name. He continued his study of disease and founded the medical school at Tours. He believed in “morbid seeds” (i.e. bacteria and viruses) that spread specific diseases from person to person. It is one of the great oddities of medicine that bacteria were first observed by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1676, using a single-lens microscope of his own design. He then published his observations in a series of letters to the Royal Society of London. They were just at the limit of what his simple lenses could make out and, in one of the most striking hiatuses in the history of science, no one else would see them again for well over a century. Bretonneau hypothesized that disease was caused by bacteria in 1855, however, a microscope was not available to him and he was unable to confirm his hypothesis. He also discovered that the same illness could manifest itself differently in different patients. He identified typhoid fever and named diphtheria, (from Greek diphthera “leather” describing the appearance of a pseudomembrane in the throat), and distinguished between scarlet fever and diphtheria in 1826.

Probably Bretonnuau’s greatest claim to fame is that he performed the first successful tracheotomy in 1825. The procedure is now routine, of course, and can be lifesaving, as in cases of diphtheria.

Bretonneau died in 1862 in Paris. He is buried in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, near Tours.

Tours is well known for its lamb which can be served with a local sauce or made into a stew depending on the cut.  The simplest method is to cut noisettes from a rack of lamb, sear them in a hot skillet, and then roast them for about 6 minutes in a 200°C oven. Do not overcook them; lamb should be a little pink. Meanwhile make a sauce of lamb stock infused with thyme and rosemary and a dash of cider vinegar. Reduce and finish with a knob of butter.

Tours lamb stew is more complicated although the idea is not so very different (just more complex). Cut 1 kilo of lamb shoulder into strips, and brown in olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 100 grams of thinly sliced onions and your choice of finely chopped vegetables (peppers, leeks, carrots, celery and fennel). Continue to cook until the vegetables soften. Dust with flour. Add a tablespoonful of tomato puree, one cup of dry Vouvray wine, 100 grams of chopped tomatoes, and cover with lamb stock.  Add a bouquet garni of orange zest, rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns and garlic. Season to taste with salt. Simmer, covered, for 1½ hours.

 

Nov 132016
 

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I would have thought that the name World Kindness Day is self explanatory. It’s actually St Brice’s Day as well, but I think this is just a coincidence. It would be nice if there were no need for a special day for people to be kind on. This site lists the member nations of the World Kindness Movement which seeks – vainly I imagine – to promote kindness in the world: http://www.theworldkindnessmovement.org/member-nations/  The impression I get is that the “member nations” are not really governments who have signed on to pledge being kind in the world, but, rather, organizations within various nations who are dedicated to spreading kindness. This endeavor is, in my estimation, the foundation of Christianity, which appears to have been forgotten by the bulk of people who claim to be followers of Christ.

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So . . . before I go on to talk about St Brice’s Day and its associated activities let me exhort you to go out of your way today to be more than usually kind to people around you – not just friends, but strangers as well. Jesus told us to love our enemies. That’s probably pushing it for most people. Being kind to strangers is at least a step in the right direction. It beats the rudeness and selfishness I see daily. Let someone ahead of you in line, give up your seat to someone on the bus or subway, hold the door for someone with a big package . . . you know the drill. You don’t have to spend a fortune, or even spend anything at all. The point of the day is to shift your consciousness from one of looking inward to one of looking outward.

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I’m assuming Brice of Tours, whose celebration is today, was a kind man. Not much is known about him. Brice (Bricius) – c. 370 – 444 –  was the 4th bishop of Tours, succeeding his mentor, Martin of Tours, in 397. According to legend, Brice was an orphan. He was rescued by the bishop Martin and raised in the monastery at Marmoutiers. He later became Martin’s pupil, although the ambitious and volatile Brice was rather the opposite of his master in temperament.

As Bishop of Tours, Brice performed his duties, but was also said to succumb to worldly pleasures. After a nun in his household gave birth to a child that was rumored to be his, he performed a ritual by carrying hot coal in his coat to the grave of Martin, showing his unburned coat as proof of his innocence. The people of Tours, however, did not believe him and forced him to leave Tours. He could return only after he had travelled to Rome and had been absolved of all his sins by the Pope.

After seven years of exile in Rome, Brice returned to Tours when the administrator he had left in his absence died. Apparently he was a changed man. Upon returning, he served with such humility that on his death he was venerated as a saint. His memorial day is noted for two things: the St Brice’s Day massacre in England, and the running of the bulls in Stamford in Lincolnshire.

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The St. Brice’s Day massacre was the killing of Danes in the Kingdom of England, ordered by King Æthelred the Unready on 13 November 1002. It’s not possible to ascertain now the extent to which this order was carried out. Æthelred the Unready, or Æthelred II (Old English: Æþelræd),was king of the English from 978 to 1013, and again from 1014 to 1016. His modern sobriquet, Unready, is a misreading of the Old English unræd (meaning bad-counseled), a twist on his name ” Æþelræd”, meaning “noble-counseled”. It should not be interpreted as “unprepared”, but rather “ill-advised”.

From 991 onwards, Æthelred paid tribute, or Danegeld, to the Danish king. England had been ravaged by Danish raids every year from 997 to 1001, and in 1002 the king was told that the Danish men in England “would faithlessly take his life, and then all his councillors, and possess his kingdom afterwards”. In response, he “ordered slain all the Danish men who were in England”.

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There was certainly significant loss of life but the extent of the slaughter is unclear. Among those thought to have been killed is Gunhilde, who may have been the sister of King Sweyn I of Denmark. Her husband Pallig Tokesen, the Danish Ealdorman of Devonshire, may also have died in the massacre although, according to a different version, he was killed while defecting to join raiders ravaging the south coast.

The massacre in Oxford was justified by Æthelred in a royal charter of 1004 explaining the need to rebuild St Frideswide’s Church (now Christ Church Cathedral):

For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God’s aid, it was renewed by me.

The skeletons of 34 to 38 young men, all aged 16 to 25, were found during an excavation at St John’s College, Oxford in 2008. Chemical analysis carried out in 2012 by Oxford University researchers suggests that the remains are Viking; older scars on the bones provide evidence that they were professional warriors. It is thought that they were stabbed repeatedly and then brutally slaughtered. Charring on the bones is consistent with historical records of the church burning.

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It seems unlikely that Æthelred directed his edict towards all Danes in England, including the inhabitants of the Danelaw, because the latter were numerous and well armed. More likely it was confined to frontier towns such as Oxford, and larger towns with small Danish communities, such as Bristol, Gloucester, and London. In response to the massacre King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark invaded England in 1003. Æthelred fled to Normandy in 1013 and was replaced by Sweyn. He returned as king, however, after Sweyn’s death in 1014.

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The Stamford Bull Run was a bull-running and bull-baiting festival held on St Brice’s Day in the town of Stamford in Lincolnshire, supposedly for almost 700 years, until it was abandoned in 1837. According to local tradition (with zero primary evidence), the custom dates to the time of King John (1199 – 1216) when William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, standing on the battlements of the castle, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers came to part the combatants and one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much, that he gave the meadow in which the fight began to the butchers of Stamford on condition that they provide a bull, to be run in the town every 13 November, for ever after. Typical invented story. There are solid references to the custom in the 17th century continuing into the 19th century. That’s about par for the course for calendar customs that are purportedly “ancient.” The town of Stamford acquired common rights in the grassy flood plain next to the River Welland, which until the last century was known as Bull-meadow, and today just as The Meadows.

The event was officially opened by the ringing of St Mary’s Church bells at 10.45 am, announcing the closing and boarding of shops and the barricading of the street with carts and wagons. By 11 am crowds had gathered and the bull was released, baited by the cheering of the crowd. It was then chased through the main street and down into the Welland River, where it was caught, killed and butchered. Its meat was sometimes sold to the poor supported as a charity by donations.

Local archivists in the 17th century described how the bull was chased and tormented for the day before being driven to the Bull-meadow and slaughtered. “Its flesh [was] sold at a low rate to the people, who finished the day’s amusement with a supper of bull-beef.” Given that the custom occurred around St Martin’s Day (11 Nov.) when Martlemas beef was a customary celebratory dish around England, I’d surmise a connexion somewhere.

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The event was a time of general drunken disorder and was abandoned in the 19th century after a campaign by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the intervention of special constables, the military and police brought in from outside put a stop to it – although it took several years. Some Stamford residents defended their ancient custom as a “traditional, manly, English sport; inspiring courage, agility and presence of mind under danger.” Its defenders argued that it was less cruel and dangerous than fox hunting, and one local newspaper asked “Who or what is this London Society that, usurping the place of constituted authorities, presumes to interfere with our ancient amusement?”

The last bull run was in 1839. The last known witness of the bull running was James Fuller Scholes who spoke of it in a newspaper interview in 1928 before his 94th birthday:

I am the only Stamford man living who can remember the bull-running in the streets of the town. I can remember my mother showing me the bull and the horses and men and dogs that chased it. She kept the St Peter’s Street – the building that was formerly the Chequers Inn at that time and she showed me the bull-running sport from a bedroom window. I was only four years old then, but I can clearly remember it all. The end of St Peter’s Street (where it was joined by Rutland Terrace) was blocked by two farm wagons, and I saw the bull come to the end of the street and return again. My mother told me not to put my head out of the window – apparently because she was afraid I should drop into the street.

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Nowadays Stamford has a quasi-revival of the bull run as part of its Georgian Festival in September. They construct a bull in effigy which they parade through the streets (participants dressed in Georgian costume), and set light to it with fireworks in the meadow in the evening.

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You could reprise spiced beef from my Martin of Tours post, if you like. That seems fitting. Or you could try pork haslet. Pork haslet is an old traditional Lincolnshire dish that is certainly also suitable for today. Lincolnshire pork sausages, as well as haslet, are noted for their prominence of sage. Haslet is a classic meatloaf that is usually served sliced cold as a sandwich filling along with hot English mustard, or with sliced tomatoes and green onions. The latter usage is one of the memorable tastes of my childhood.

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©Lincolnshire Haslet

Ingredients

1 lb/450 gm  pork shoulder
1 onion, peeled and quartered
5 oz/150 gm  breadcrumbs
sage leaves
salt and pepper
melted pork lard

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Run the pork, onion, and sage leaves (to taste) twice through the coarse blade of a grinder (or pulse in a food processor). Add the breadcrumbs and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and mix well. Grease a loaf tin well with pork lard and fill it with the pork mix.

Place the loaf tin in a larger pan of water so that the water comes about halfway up the side of the loaf tin, and bake in the oven for 90 minutes.

Cool the loaf tin on a wire rack until it is cool enough to handle, but still warm to the touch. Unmold the haslet on to a plate and let cool completely.

Slice thickly and serve with mustard, or use as a sandwich filling with tomatoes and green onions. Wholewheat bread is a must.

In honor of World Kindness Day it would be a nice gesture to make haslet, or anything for that matter, and give some away to a stranger.