Black Friday means different things to different people. I’m not much of a shopper, so for me the Friday after Thanksgiving was really a great day for baking. I didn’t have to work, and the forecast was for clear skies, and not quite as cold as the day before. My plan was to bake 18 loaves and make this the last major bake before winter sets in.
Everything started out fine. I fired the oven at 6:00, and catnapped for another half hour before feeding the fire again. After breakfast, I mixed up dough for 6 loaves of sourdough rye, 4 loaves of 2 day multi-grain, 4 loaves of regular whole wheat and four loaves of Italian bread with flax seed. The tricky part of the day came from trying to match the readiness of the oven to the readiness of the loaves. The wood was burning really fast, so I was worried the oven wasn’t heating well enough. I added more wood after noon. Meanwhile, the dough was rising more slowly than usual because the kitchen was not as warm as it is in the summer. I turned the heat up in the kitchen. Both the oven and the room heated up more quickly than I anticipated. That meant the dough was ready and the oven was too hot.
What I should have done, is waited for the oven to cool, but I was impatient. I had company over to see how the oven worked, and a photographer on hand to take pictures. Everyone had other things to do than wait for the oven. I put in the 6 loaves of rye, figuring I would check them in 5 minutes. I did, but one look made black Friday take on a whole new meaning. The loaves were a solid black; tops, bottoms, and sides all the color of charcoal, though they were still raw in the middle. I thought about taking them out, but decided to leave them in. After all the crusts couldn’t get any more burned, and the inside needed more time.
One of the reasons I love baking bread in the outdoor oven is that it’s always an experiment. Most of the time, a hotter oven means a shorter bake time, but the timing doesn’t work if the oven is too hot. I let the oven cool before baking the rest of the bread, which came out beautifully. Even the burned loaves weren’t a total loss. I was able to salvage almost half of each loaf by cutting off all the crusts. The crustless rye made great bread stuffing for the turkey I cooked today for our after Thanksgiving family gathering.
It just goes to show that it’s all in your perspective. I ruined 6 loaves of bread, but learned a new way to stuff a turkey, and I still have12 new loaves of good bread. Over all, I’d call my black Friday a success. And next time, I’ll wait until the oven cools.
This week, on November 5th, parts of the British empire celebrated a curious holiday: Guy Fawkes Day. The day is marked with parades, bonfires, the burning of an effigy, and children begging for “a penny for the guy.” Though I’ve paired Guy Fawkes with Shrewsbury Cakes, in reality the two have nothing to do with each other beyond the fact that both existed in the early 17th century. Let’s start with Guy Fawkes, the unfortunate man for whom the day is oddly dedicated.
Guy Fawkes was Catholic in Prostestant England. As such, he joined with a group of dissenters who wanted to get rid of the Protestants and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. In 1605, these misguided men decided the best way to accomplish this was to blow up Parliament on a day when King James and his son would be there. This was not Guy Fawkes’ idea, nor was he any kind of leader in the plan. He was a flunky whose task was to guard and then set alight the gunpowder which had been secreted in the cellars under Parliament. Fortunately for Parliament and the king, the plot was discovered and thwarted. Unfortunately for Guy, he was the conspirator who was caught. He was tortured until he revealed the names of the co-conspirators. Then he was executed (hung, drawn, and quartered.) Most of the others were then rounded up and executed as well.
Today we would call this Gunpowder Plot the act of a terrorist group. In their defense, Guy and his associates did not consider themselves either traitors or terrorists. They were only trying to see justice done and fight for religious freedom.
That is to say, their own religious freedom, not anyone else’s. They were as willing to jail, torture and execute Protestants as the Protestants were willing to suppress Catholicism (or ‘popery.’) In the United States today, where interfaith councils are common, and Christians often share a meal with non-Christians, it is hard to imagine the hostility between Catholics and Protestants 300 years ago. During Guy Fawkes’ life, the monarch was Protestant and the persecution of Catholics was severe. It was illegal to attend Mass, and refusing to go to Protestant services resulted in heavy fines and other punishments. During the reign of Elizabeth I, many Catholic priests were executed. Because James I’s mother (and possibly wife) had been Catholic, the beleaguered Catholics of England hoped for a change when James ascended to the throne in 1603 after Elizabeth I died. But James ordered all priests to leave England, said Catholicism was mere superstition, and continued the persecution of Catholics. The famous Gunpowder Plot was one of many unsuccessful attempts to oust James and get a Catholic monarch.
After the foiled plot was discovered, the kingdom celebrate James escape with bonfires. Some communities burned effigies of the Pope. Later, effigies of Guy Fawkes were burned.
This lack of religious tolerance continued well into the 19th century, by which time the 5th of November was securely established as a National Holiday, celebrated with fireworks and bonfires.
Now, you might ask, what does tall his have to do with Shrewsbury cakes?
Not much really, but in my mind the two always go together. For many years I taught Macbeth in my high school English classes. Macbeth was a play Shakespeare wrote to please James (complete with a warning of the chaos engendered by regicide.) In order to develop more interest in Shakespeare’s works, I talked about James, and Guy Fawkes, and I brought cookies or ‘byskettes’ for the class. (see blog post for Applemoyse https://bricabrac164.wordpress.com/2019/10/11/applemoyse/)
Shrewsbury cakes, to be exact, because I have great medieval recipes for Shrewsbury cakes. Though there are many versions, a Shrewsbury Cake during the 16th and 17th centuries was a spicy shortbread cookie. This was a medieval food that students invariably liked.
John Murrel, wrote the following recipe in A daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlemen, … (1617) (reprinted p. 317 in Dining with William Shakespeare and in Sallets, Humbles, and Shrewsbury Cakes, p, 64).
Take a quart of very fine flower, eight ounces of fine sugar beaten and ciersed, twelve ounces of sweete butter, a Nutmegge grated, two or three spoonefuls of damaske rose-water, worke all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of halfe an houre, then roule it in a little round Cakes, about the thickness of three shillings one upon another, then take a silver Cup or glasse some foure or three inches over, and cut the cakes in them, then strowe some flower upon white papers and lay them upon them, and bake them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet, set up your lid till may tell a hundreth , then you shall see them white, if any of them rise up clap them downe with some cleane thing, and if your Oven be not too hot set up your lid again, and in a quarter of an houre they will be baked enough, but in any case take heede your Oven be not too hot, for they must not looke browne but white, and so draw them foorth and lay them one upon another till they be could, and you may keep them half a yeare, the new baked are best.
Modern Version: Shrewsbury Cakes
½ c. white flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. butter or margerine
1/4 c. white or brown sugar
1/2 T. ground nutmeg
1/2 T. rosewater (or vanilla)
(Note that the proportion of sugar to flour in the modern version is less than the original, but I find the original is too sweet. For sweeter cookies, double the sugar)
Cut the butter into the flours,nutmeg, and sugar as for pie crust. Sprinkle the rose water over the mixture. Work the dough just enough to form it into a ball. Roll it out to ⅛-¼ inch thick. Cut in 3 inch circles. Bake for 12 minutes at 400 degrees.
I’m convinced you will enjoy your Shrewsbury cakes as much as my students did. And as you celebrate think of this:
Please to remember the 5th of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I see no reason Why Gunpowder Treason Should ever be forgot.
Beebe, Ruth Anne. Sallets, Humbles, and Shrewsbury Cakes. David R. Godine Publisher, 1976.
Lorwin, Madge. Dining with William Shakespeare. New York: Atheneum, 1976.
The other day I was dusting my bookshelves (a rather uncommon activity in my house.) I have a lot of books, with bookshelves in every room. While I rarely reread any of the fiction, I enjoy perusing the titles and remembering the pleasure each gave. That day as I lingered over some of the older historical fiction, a book by Leon Garfield caught my eye. I remembered discovering the book more than twenty years ago and thoroughly enjoying it.
The story concerns the mysterious disappearance of a baby and the various attempts to find and restore the missing child. Although this scenario doesn’t sound the least bit funny, Garfield turns the story into a delightful comedy.
Imagine this: Two mischievous schoolboys inspired by a dangerous idea and an incomplete understanding of the Greek myths. Add in a sentimental young lady and two misguided suitors with their own agendas. Throw in a gipsy baby as a substitute for the missing infant and a jaded investigator with a clubfoot and penchant for charting webs of deceit and lies. Here you have the recipe for Leon Garfield’s hilarious The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris.
Miss Adelaide is, of course, the baby, who through no fault of her own goes missing and turns up in a poorhouse. Her brother, Harris, and his friend, Bostock , are responsible, yet who could really blame them? They were just acting out the Greek stories of exposing an infant to the elements, the stories their teacher had read to them. They never meant any harm. How could they have guessed an impressionable young woman (instead of a fox with full dugs) would stumble upon Miss Adelaide and steal her away? The story follows the escapades of young Bostock and Harris as they try plan after plan to find and retrieve Miss Adelaide to return her to her crib, and the mischief they started has long-reaching consequences.
The Strange Affair of Miss Adelaide Harris is an example of my favorite kind of historical fiction: a cozy mystery. Garfiled draws very believable characters, each with his or her own agenda, often unknowingly at cross-purposes with each other. The result is a work of fiction that seamlessly draws the reader into the past world. Each character exemplifies and personifies (even mocks) 19th century ‘types’, without ever relying on stereotypes. Mr. Brett, for instance, is the unhappy, lovelorn schoolmaster, who finds himself as the second to both parties in an impending duel. Garfield gives us enough of Mr. Brett’s backstory and inner dialogue to see him as an individual. Major Alexander, a blustering, middle-aged retired military man, is equally individualized when he alarmed at finding himself challenging a much younger man to a duel.
Though the setting of the story is not any specific time or place, there are enough specific details to recognize 19th century Britain. Descriptions of clothing (waistcoats, bodices, and bagwigs), food (veal and mutton pies), money, (schillings and half crowns) and practices (a wet nurse who makes the rounds ) all add verisimilitude.
However, the real treasure in this story is the humor, based on the ridiculous, yet logical actions of characters at cross-purposes. Re-reading this nearly forgotten gem has been a delight. Perhaps I ought to visit my old book friends a little more often.
The iconic apple- symbol of hearth and home, health and all good things. America’s favorite fruit, right?
Well, not quite. Americans actually eat more bananas per year than apples, but apples still hold an important place in our food culture.
Indeed, apples have been enjoyed world-wide for thousands of years. They are among the oldest foods cultivated by humans, with more varieties than can be counted. Originally, the apple developed in the Caucasus Mountains. Alexander the Great is said to have found apples in Kazakhstan in 328 BCE. The earliest apple recipe on record is for a pork and apple dish, attributed to Apicius in De Re Coquinaria (written c. 300 CE, some 200 years after Apicius lived).
In fact, the apple has been so widespread in popularity, it is perhaps not surprising that the Old English word aepel meant any fruit (just as the OE word mete meant any food). This is evident in the names of various other medieval foods: fingeraeppla (finger apples or dates), appel of paradis (banana) and eorthaeppla (earth apple or cucumber). The same thing was true of the Latin word pomun, meaning fruit which become pomme meaning apple in French.
Recipes for apples abound. This fall, with apples plentiful in markets, roadside stands, and the neighbor’s back yard, try this medieval recipe for applesauce. In my mind, it’s much better than bananas.
Take a dosen apples and ether rooste or boyle them and drawe them thorowe a streyner, and the yolkes of three or foure egges withal, and, as ye strayne them, temper them wyth three or foure sponefull of damaske water yf ye wyll, than take and season it wyth suger and halfe a dysche of swete butter, and boyle them upon a chaffyngdysche in a platter, and caste byskettes or synamon and gynger upon them and so serve them forthe. (from Dining with William Shakespeare p.172, originally from A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, 1575)
Translation into modern English:
Take a dozen apples and either roast or boil them. Mash them through a strainer, and add the yolks of three or four eggs. As you strain them, flavor them with three or four spoonfuls of damask water (rosewater) if desired. Then season it with sugar and half a dish of unsalted butter. Boil them in a chaffingdish. Sprinkle with biscuits or cinnamon and ginger and then serve.
A modern version:
Peel and core 8 apples. Put in a pot with ½ cup water. Simmer until apples are soft. Add ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 t. Ginger, 1 t. Cinnamon and 2 T. rosewater (vanilla may be substituted, but will taste somewhat different). Blend on high speed until smooth. Return to pot and add 2 egg yolks (beaten) and 2 T. butter. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until butter is melted and egg yolks have had time to cook. Serve warm or cold, with shortbread cookies or Shrewsbury Cakes.
(Note: byskette is an earlier spelling of biscuit, coming the the Latin for ‘twice-baked.’ In medieval times byskettes were generally flat and crisp, like a modern cracker or hard cookie, and may or may not have been sweetened. Look for a discussion of Shrewsbury cakes coming in November.)
A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye. 1575. Imprinted at London in Fleetstreete, by William How for Abraham Veale.
Lorwin, Madge. Dining with William Shakespeare. New York: Atheneum, 1976
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): Complete text reproduced micro graphically. Oxford University Press, 1971. Volume 1. Pages 101-102, 220.
Chances are that if you ate a banana this week, (the most commonly eaten fruit in the world) you participated in a global economy. Though we are more aware of it than we used to be, such worldwide commerce is nothing new. Elissa, an iron-hulled, tall ship moored in Galveston, TX, is a beautiful reminder of such connections. Even her name, Elissa, calls to mind the movement of goods and people. Elissa, the heroine of Virgils’ Aeneid, fled from Tyre to Carthage and changed her name to Dido. With polished teak pin rails and bright work, tall masts for Douglas fir from Oregon, and billowing sails from Maine, Elissa, like Dido, is a testament not only to global shipping, but also to tenacity and the ability to reinvent oneself to meet the demands of the changing world.
Elissa is a barque, so called because of her rigging. Her three masts carry 19 sails. She has square and fore and aft sails on her foremast and mainmast, and fore and aft sails on her mizzenmast. She was built in 1877, just as the sailing era was gradually being taken over by steam-powered vessels. Elissa has truly been a ship of the world. Built in Aberdeen, Scotland, she worked for owners in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Greece before becoming an American vessel. During her shipping years she carried cotton, bananas, and many other cargoes, stopping in Galveston at least twice.
Her story serves as a chronical for changes in world wide shipping. As global shipping changed, Elissa did too.Over her 90 years as a commercial shipping vessel, she was refitted several times, including the addition of an engine. But even steam-power couldn’t bring Elissa into the modern world. In the late 1960’s she was relegated to a salvage yard in Greece. It was ten years before she was rescued, and towed across the ocean to her current home in Galveston, Texas. It took another six years to repair and restore Elissa to her former sailing glory. Now, as one of the oldest sailing ships in America (The Louis R. French is the oldest), she serves as a floating museum at the Texas Seaport Museum, in Galveston, Texas. She sails in competitions and demonstrations, and offers sail training courses each year to keep sailing traditions and knowledge alive.
Remember that banana you ate? Though they are cheap and easy to find today, back in Elissa’s prime, bananas were considered an unlucky cargo. They spoiled easily, risking the chances of profit, and when they rotted, bananas gave off noxious fumes that made the crew sick. (And those huge brown spiders often found on bananas from South America are scary enough to make anyone cringe.) I admit to taking for granted the ease in which we enjoy products from all over the world today. The Elissa evokes a bygone era where even the common banana was a luxury, and I am reminded just how lucky we are.
This post starts with a fair warning: I don’t like beans. With the notable exception of various kinds of green beans (that is, beans with minimal seeds and edible pods), I dislike all types of the actual bean seeds. Dislike is perhaps too mild a word. My mother’s famous bean soup, relished by all other members of my family, always made me gag. I know that beans are nutritious, a valuable source of vegetable protein, and fairly easy to grow. They are eaten with gusto in many parts of the world. The fact remains, however, that in spite of years of trying to learn to like them, I still don’t like beans.
So, you might reasonably ask, why write a blog post about beans? The answer is a bit complicated. Due to vacation travels, benign neglect of the garden, and a misunderstanding, (I thought the beans we planted were green beans) I ended up with a good quantity of beautiful Heritage Calypso Beans. It turns out I hate wasting food even more than I hate beans. So I decided to find a way to cook these beans and enjoy eating them.
Easier said than done. I started by reading up on beans. Beans have been cultivated for thousands of years in both the Old and New Worlds. Broad beans, also called fava beans, were known in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The common bean originated in the Americas. Suffice it to say, beans have enjoyed world-wide popularity since ancient times.
With this information in mind, I searched my older cookbooks for bean recipes. Most of the Colonial-era cookbooks suggested cooking beans with pork or bacon. Older, medieval-era books had more variety in method and seasoning.
I settled on three methods of cooking the beans:
1.To Dress Beans and Bacon (18th century)
Mary Randolph suggests using tender, fresh beans (the seed portion), picked in the morning. These are to be boiled with a flitch of bacon, and served with butter. (Randolph p.106-107)
Child recommends cooking beans with pork, but calls for soaking the beans overnight, and seasoning the pork and beans with pepper. (Child p.51)
Glasse also pairs beans with pork, but insists the two be boiled separately, then served together with butter and parsley, and topped with toasted bread crumbs. (Glasse, p.35-36)
My version: Colonial Pork and Beans
Soak 2 cups fresh Calypso beans overnight. (This step is probably not necessary with fresh beans.)
Boil the beans for 45 minutes, until they are soft.
Meanwhile, roast a pork tenderloin or pork tenderloin crusted with bacon for 1-1½ hours (depending on size)(Note- all the colonial recipes called for boiling the chunk of bacon or pork, but I felt that roasting the meat would produce a better flavor.)
Drain the beans. Add butter and salt to taste. Serve them in a dish with the pork.
The result: This dish was very nice to look at, but the beans still tasted like beans to me. I could eat them if the flavor was disguised with enough of the pork. My daughter, who likes beans, thought the beans were fairly bland this way, and suggested they would be better if the beans and pork or bacon were cooked together.
2. For to make drawen benes (14th century)
“Take benes and seethe hem, and grynde hem in a morter, and drawe hem vp with gode broth; & do oynouns in the broth grete mynced, & do therto; and colour it with saffroun, and serue it forth.” (Curye on Inglysch, p. 98)
My version:Medieval Bean Dip
This is very much like a modern bean dip.
Take 1//2 c. Calypso beans, boiled until they are soft. Mash them well. Simmer ¼ c. chopped onion and a pinch of saffron in 3 T. beef broth. Add the broth mixture to the bean mixture. Season to taste.
The result: This is also a very bland dish with a strong bean flavor.
3. For to make a potage (14th century)
“Tak wite benes & seth hem in water, & bray the benys in a morter al to nought; & lat them sethe in almande mylk & do therein wyn & hony, & seth reysouns in wyn & do therto & after dresse yt forth.” (Curye on Inglysch, p. 77-78)
My version:A Sweet Bean Soup
A potage is a soup, so I had serious doubts about this recipe, remembering my experience with my mother’s bean soup. However, this recipe is quite different from any other bean recipe, so I was willing to try it.
Boil ½ c. Calypso beans until they are soft. Mash them. Stir in 1/2 c. almond milk. Soak ½ c. raisins in ½ c. red wine for 10 minutes. Mix the wine and raisins into the bean and milk mixture. Add !/4 c. honey. Heat and serve.
The result: In this recipe, the sweetness of the honey and raisins completely masked the bean flavor, and I actually liked the dish. Unfortunately, no one else did.
In the end, my experiment with Calypso beans was only partially successful. Although at least one person liked each of the three dishes, no one begged for seconds. I’m happy to say, none of the beans were wasted.
But next year, I think I’ll plant green beans.
Child, Lydia Marie. The American Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy. 12th Edition. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co. 1833. (First published 1828)
Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including the "Forme of Cury") Constance B. Heiatt (Editor), and Sharon Butler (Editor). Oxford University Press; 1st Edition edition, 1985.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy: Excelling any Thing of the Kind ever yet published. Alexandria: Cottom and Stewart. 1805. (First Edition publishing in London, 1747. This edition reprint of 1st American Edition, 1805, by Applewood Books, 1997).
Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife Or, Methodical Cook. Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1860. (Facsimile by Dover Publications, 1993, with introduction by Janice Bluestein Longone).
Park Güell in Barcelona is amazing–sort of like Dr. Seuss meets classical Greece. Majestic Doric columns support the roof of the terrace, which features the famous curving mosaic bench, so serpentine it seems almost to writhe and flow. Built to be ergonomically sound and quite comfortable, the loops and curls of the bench invite relaxed conversation. The park startles visitors with irregular shapes, slanted arches, and unusual creatures, such as the huge multi-colored mosaic lizard (known as Drac, the Dragon), descending the stairs near the park entrance. A mixture of the practical and the whimsical, this park is deservedly famous in Barcelona.
Yet fanciful and modern as it seems, the park was built over a hundred years ago. Starting in 1900, Gaudi built this park for M. Güell who was a speculator planning to sell houses in the park. Unfortunately for him, no one bought the houses, thinking the park was too far from the city. Eventually, as partial payment from Güell, Gaudi ended up living in the model house that he had designed there. This park exemplifies many of Gaudi’s important ideas. First, Gaudi’s deep religious convictions are apparent throughout the park. For instance, round balls lining an avenue represent rosary beads. Gaudi was also very innovative, planning for all the rainwater to be collected in great underground cisterns that could water the park for three months. Finally, as a early conservationist, Gaudi created his mosaics from recycled material, like broken wine bottles.
The day we visited Park Güell, firework stands lined the nearby streets in preparation for St. John’s Day, a holiday derived from the ancient pagan summer solstice celebration. Today festival goers unwittingly mingle ancient traditions with newer ones as they strum the guitar and sing, start a fire on the beach, drink warm rum, then jump over the fire and set off fireworks. This seems a perfect magical celebration of this surrealistic park.
Perhaps Gaudi’s work takes us far beyond the borders of this galaxy to the windswept landscapes of Tatooine. Casa Mila, also known as the Stone Quarry, is the last family home designed by Gaudi before he turned to larger projects. It was built between 1906 and 1912. The roof features a maze of bizarre shapes.
Another great monument to Gaudi’s work is La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral which dominates the city skyline and is able to seat over 1000 people. Building this church began in 1882. Gaudi took over the work in 1883, but it is still not finished. (Gaudi planned the entire project, which is due to be finished in 2026). It has been built from donations and more recently, entrance fees. This remarkable cathedral seems to have been built of liquid stone, like living stone formed into symbolic shapes. When it is finished, there will be 18 spires. The main tower will be 565 feet, the tallest bell tower in the world when it is done. Gaudi’s symbolism covers every inch of the building. For instance, there are 12 pillars for the 12 apostles, each with a fruit at the top, one for each month of the year, and according to the seasons (so figs and oranges in winter). The next higher set of pillars is alternating grapes and wheat for the bread and wine of the last supper.
A great many details make this church one of the most unusual combination of Gothic and inspired surrealism. For instance, there are no completely right angles in the building. The columns inside the church double in size as they go up. They are made to look like tree trunks with branches supporting the ceiling, snd the stonework looks like pale, melting chocolate.
Every detail is symbolic. For instance, the colors of the stained glass windows inside are incredibly brilliant, so translucent they glow. The glass shows sunrise on the east and sunset on the west, so the east starts with oranges and reds and moves toward blue green light of day, and vice versa on the west.
All three places, La Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Park Güell, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Perhaps that’s not surprising since it is not often a place can be securely grounded in the past at the same time it transports the visitor to such other-worldly, mystical experiences more like dreams than reality. All of Gaudi’s works in Barcelona, with their roots in the neo-Gothic and early modernism of the late 19-th century, and their forward-thinking incorporation of nature into architectural forms take visitors beyond the conventional into unearthly regions of the imagination.