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Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Art of Cookery, Chapter IV: A number of little dishes fit for a supper…

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Source:  Wikipedia

Sugarloaf. Source: Wikipedia

Hannah’s book continues.  The lengthy title sums up the chapter’s contents; unlike today where every word counts because people’s attention spans are spread as thin as butter on too many toasts, 18th century writers could take their time, and frequently did so.  There are quite a few interesting bits in this chapter:  Have you ever pickled hog’s ears?  Or even seen a recipe for it before now?  Not me.  And just how much space can there be inside a cock’s comb, to stuff?  The thought of stewing lettuce may seem very odd to us; but there are two things to consider:  One, eighteenth century English had an aversion to fresh fruits or vegetables; they considered them unsafe, and unhealthy.  Two, their lettuce was not the hybrid, water-retaining, chilled leaves we know of today; we still stew spinach, fry, boil and bake it, after all, and their lettuce was probably not much different.

Sugar was sold in solidly-packed “loafs”, or cones; Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was thus named because it resembled this traditional shape.


Chapter IV:  To make a number of little dishes fit for a supper, or side dish. and little corner dishes for a great table; and the rest you have in the chapter for Lent.

Hog’s ears forced.

Take four hogs ears, and half boil them, or take them soused*; make a force-meat** thus:  take half a pound of beef-suet, as much crumbs of bread, an anchovy, some sage, boil and chop very find a little parsley; mix all together with the yolk of an egg, a little pepper, slit your ears very carefully to make a place for your stuffing, fill them, flour them, and fry them in fresh butter till they are of a fine brown; then pour out all the fat clean, and put to them half a pint of gravy, a glass of white wine, three tea-spoonfuls of mustard, a piece of butter as big as a nutmeg rolled in flour, a little pepper, a small onion whole; cover them close, and let them stew softly for half an hour, shaking your pan now and then.  When they are enough, lay them in your dish, and pour your sauce over them; but first take out the onion.  This makes a very pretty dish; but if you would make a fine large dish, take the feet, and cut all the meat in small thin pieces, and stew the ears.  Season with salt to your palate.

*Souse:  To pickle, steep in vinegar, preserved in salt and vinegar.

** Force-meat – a stuffing, with either meat or bread as a base.

To force cocks-combs.

Parboil your cocks-combs, then open them with a point of a knife at the great end:  take the white of a fowl, as much bacon and beef marrow, cut these small, and beat them fine in a marble mortar; season them with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg, and mix it with an egg; fill the cocks-combs, and stew them in a little strong gravy softly for half an hour, then slice in some fresh mushrooms and a few pickled ones; then beat up the yolk of an egg in a little gravy, stirring it.  Season with salt.  When they are enough, dish them up in little dishes or plates.

To preserve cocks-combs.

Let them be well cleaned, then put them into a pot, with some melted bacon, and boil them a little; about half an hour after, add a little bay salt, some pepper, a little vinegar, a lemon sliced, and an onion stuck with cloves.  When the bacon begins to stick to the pot, take them up, put them into the pan you would keep them in, lay a clean linen cloth over them, and pour melted butter clarified over them, to keep them close from the air.  These make a pretty plate at a supper.

To preserve or pickle pigs feet and ears.

Take your feet and ears single, and wash them well, split the feet in two, put a bay leaf between every foot, put in almost as much water as will cover them.  When they are well steemed, add to them cloves, mace, whole pepper, and ginger, coriander-seed and salt, according to your discretion; put to them a bottle or two of Rhenish* wine, according to the quantity you do, half a score of bay-leaves, and a bunch of sweet-herbs.  Let them boil softly till they are very tender, then take them out of the liquor, lay them in an earthen pot, then strain the liquor over them; when they are cold, cover them down close, and keep them for use.

You should let them stand to be cold; skim off all the fat, and then put in the wine and spice.

They eat well cold; or at any time, heat them in the jelly, and thicken it with a little piece of butter rolled in flour, makes a pretty dish; or eat the ears, and take the feet clean out of the jelly, and roll it in the yolk of an egg, or melted butter, and then in crumbs of bread, and broil them; or fry them in fresh butter, lay the ears in the middle and the feet round, and pour the sauce over, or you may cut the ears in long slips, which is better:  and if you chuse it, make a good brown gravy to mix with them, a glass of white wine and some mustard, thickened with a piece of butter rolled in flour.

* Rhenish wine:  Wine from the Rhine valley in Germany; it could refer to either red or white.

To pickle ox-palates.

Take your palates, wash them well with salt and water, and put them in a pipkin with water and some salt; and when they are ready to boil, skim them well, and put to them pepper, cloves, and mace, as much as will give them a quick taste.  When they are boiled tender (which will require four or five hours) peel them and cut them into small pieces, and let them cool; then make the pickle of white wine and vinegar, an equal quantity; boil the pickle, and put in the spices that were boiled in the palates; when both the pickle and palates are cold, lay your palates in a jar, and put to them a few bay-leaves and a little fresh spice:  pour the pickle over them, cover them close, and keep them for use.

Of these you may at any time make a pretty little dish, either with brown sauce or white; or butter and mustard and a spoonful of white wine; or they are ready to put in made-dishes.

To stew cucumbers.

Pare twelve cucumbers, and slice them as thick as a crown-piece, and put them to drain, and then lay them in a coarse cloth till they are dry, flour them and fry them brown in butter; pour out the fat, then put to them some gravy, a little claret, some pepper, cloves, and mace, and let them stew a little, then roll a bit of butter in flour, and toss them up; season with salt:  you may add a very little mushroom pickle.

To ragoo cucumbers.

Take two cucumbers, two onions, slice them, and fry them in a little butter, then drain them in a sieve, put them into a sauce-pan, add six spoonfuls of gravy, two of white wine, a blade of mace:  let them stew five or six minutes; then take a piece of butter as big as a walnut rolled in flour, shake them together, and when it is thick, dish them up.

A fricasey of kidney beans.

Take a quart of the seed, when dry, soak them all night in river water, then boil them on a slow fire till quite tender; take a quarter of a peck* of onions, slice them thin, fry them in butter till brown; then take them out of the butter, and put them in a quart of strong draw’d gravy.  Boil them till you may mash them fine, then put in your beans, and give them a boil or two.  Season with pepper, salt and nutmeg.

* Peck:  A unit for measuring the amount of something dry such as grain or fruit, containing eight quarts.

To dress Windsor beans.

Take the seed, boil them till they are tender; then blanch them, and fry them in clarified butter.  Melt butter, with a drop of vinegar, and pour over them.  Stew them with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Or you may eat them with butter, sack*, sugar, and a little powder of cinnamon.

* Sack:  An antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.

To make jumballs.

Take a pound of fine flour and a pound of fine powder-sugar, make them into a light paste, with whites of eggs beat fine; then add half a pint of cream, half a pound of fresh butter melted, and a pound of blanched almonds well  beat.  Knead them all together thoroughly, with a little rose-water, and cut out your jumballs in what figures you fancy; and either bake them in a gentle oven, or fry them in fresh butter, and they make a pretty side or corner dish.  You may melt a little butter with a spoonful of sack*, and throw fine sugar all over the dish.  If you make them in pretty figures, they make a fine little dish.

* Sack:  An antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.

To make ragoo of onions.

Take a pint of little young onions, peel them, and take four large one, peel them and cut them very small; put a quarter of a pound of good butter into a stew-pan, when it is melted and done making a noise, throw in your onions, and fry them till they begin to look a little brown:  then shake in a little flour, and shake them round till they are thick; throw in a little salt, a little beaten pepper, a quarter of a pint of good gravy, and a tea-spoonful of mustard.  Stir all together, and when it is well tasted and of a good thickness pour it into your dish, and garnish it with fried crumbs of bread and raspings.  They make a pretty little dish, and are very good.  You may stew raspings in the room of flour, if you please.

A ragoo of oysters.

Open twenty large oysters, take them out of their liquor, save the liquor, and dip the oysters in a batter made thus:  take two eggs, beat them well, a little lemon-peel grated, a little nutmeg grated, a blade of made pounded fine, a little parsley chopped fine; beat all together with a little flour, have ready some butter or dripping in a stew-pan; when it boils, dip in your oysters, one by one, into the batter, and fry them of a fine brown; then with an egg-slice take them out, and lay them in a dish before the fire.  Pour the fat out of the pan, and shake a little flour over the bottom of the pan, then rub a little piece of butter, as big as a small walnut, all over with your knife, whilst it is over the fire; then pour in three spoonfuls of the oyster liquor strained, one spoonful of white wine; and a quarter of a pint of gravy; grate a little nutmeg, stir all together, throw in the oysters, give the pan a toss round, and when the sauce is of a good thickness, pour all into the dish, and garnish with raspings.

A ragoo of asparagus.

Scrape a hundred of grass* very clean, and throw it into cold water.  When you have scraped all, cut as far as is good and green, about an inch long, and take two heads of endive clean washed and picked, cut it very small, a young lettuce clean washed and cut small, a large onion peeled and cut small; put a quarter of a pound of butter into a stew-pan, when it is melted throw in the above things:  toss them about, and fry them ten minutes; then season them with a little pepper and salt, shake in a little flour, toss them about, then pour in half a pint of gravy.  Let them stew till the sauce is very thick and good; then pour all into your dish.  Save a few of the little tops of the grass to garnish the dish.

*Grass:  She’s referring to the asparagus thus.

A ragoo of livers.

Take as many livers as you would have for your dish.  A turkey’s liver and six fowls livers will make a pretty dish.  Pick the galls from them, and throw them into cold water; take the six livers, put them in a sauce-pan with a quarter of a pint of gravy, a spoonful of mushrooms, either pickled or fresh, a spoonful of catchup, a little bit of butter as big as a nutmeg rolled in flour; season them with pepper and salt to your palate.  Let them stew softly ten minutes:  in the mean while broil the turkey’s liver nicely, lay it in the middle, and the stewed livers round.  Pour the sauce all over, and garnish with lemon.

To ragoo cauliflowers.

Lay a large cauliflower in water, then pick it to piece, as if for pickling:  take a quarter of a pound of butter, with a spoonful of water, and melt it in a stew-pan, then throw in your cauliflowers, and shake them about often till they are quite tender; then shake in a little flour, and toss the pan about.  Season them with a little pepper and salt, pour in half a pint of good gravy, let them stew till the sauce is thick, and pour it all into a little dish.  Save a few little bits of cauliflower, when stewed in the butter, to garnish with.

Stewed peases and lettuce.

Take a quart of green peas, two nice lettuces clean washed and picked, cut them small across, put all into a sauce-pan, with a quarter of a pound of butter, pepper and salt to your palate; cover them close, and let them stew softly, shaking the pan often.  Let them stew ten minutes, then shake in a little flour, toss them round, and pour in half a pint of good gravy; put in a little bundle of sweet-herbs and an onion, with three cloves, and a blade of mace stuck in it.  Cover it close, and let them stew a quarter of an hour; then take out the onions and sweet-herbs, and turn it all into a dish.  If you find the sauce not thick enough, shake in a little more flour, and let it simmer, then take it up.

Cod-founds broiled with gravy.

Scald them in hot water, and rub them with salt well; blanch them, that is, take off the black dirty skin, then set them on in cold water, and let them simmer till they begin to be tender; take them out and flour them, and broil them on the grid-iron.  In the mean time take a little good gravy, a little mustard, a little bit of butter rolled in flour, give it a boil, season it with pepper and salt.  Lay the founds in your dish, and pour your sauce over them.

A forced cabbage.

Take a fine white-heart cabbage, about as big as a quarter of a peck, lay it in water two or three hours, then half boil it, set it in a cullender to drain, then very carefully cut out the heart, but take great care not to break off any of the outside leaves, fill it with force-meat* made thus:  take a pound of veal, half a pound of bacon, fat and lean together, cut them small, and beat them fine in a mortar, with four eggs boiled hard.  Season with pepper and salt, a little beaten mace, a very little lemon-peel cut fine, some parsley chopped fine, a very little thyme, and two anchovies:  when they are beat fine, take the crumb of a stale roll, some mushrooms, if you have them either pickled or fresh, together with the yolk of an egg, then fill the hollow part of the cabbage, and tie it with a packthread; then lay some slices of bacon to the bottom of a stew-pan or sauce-pan, and on that a pound of coarse lean beef, cut thin; put in the cabbage, cover it close, and let it stew over a slow fire, till the bacon begins to stick to the pan, shake in a little flour, then pour in a quart of broth, an onion stuck with cloves, two blades of mace, some whole pepper, a little bundle of sweet-herbs; cover it close, and let it stew very softly an hour and a half, put in a glass of red wine, give it a boil, then take it up, lay it in the dish, and strain the gravy and pour over:  untie it first.  This is a fine side-dish, and the next day make a fine hash, with a veal-steak nicely broiled and laid on it.

* Force-meat – a stuffing, with either meat or bread as a base.

Stewed red cabbage.

Take a red cabbage, lay it in cold water an hour, then cut it into thin slices across, and cut it into little pieces.  Put it into a stew-pan, with a pound of sausages, a pint of gravy, a little bit of ham or lean bacon; cover it close, and let it stew half an hour; then take the pan off the fire, and skim off the fat, shake in a little flour, and set it on again.  Let it stew two or three minutes, then lay the sausages in your dish, and pour the rest all over.  You may, before you take it up, put in half a spoonful of vinegar.

Savoys forced and stewed.

Take two savoys*, fill one with force-meat**, and the other without.  Stew them with gravy; season them with pepper and salt, and when they are enough take a piece of butter, as big as a large walnut, rolled in flour, and put in.  Let them stew till they are enough, and the sauce thick; then lay them in your dish, and pour the sauce over them.  These things are best done on a stove.

* Savoy – type of cabbage

** Force-meat – a stuffing, with either meat or bread as a base.

To force cucumbers.

Take three large cucumbers, scoop out the pith, fill them with fried oysters, seasoned with pepper and salt; put on the piece again you cut off, sew it with a coarse thread, and fry them in the butter the oysters are fried in:  then pour out the butter, and shake in a little flour, pour in half a pin of gravy, shake it round and put in the cucumbers.  Season it with a little pepper and salt; let them stew softly till they are tender, then lay them in a plate, and pour the gravy over them:  or you may force them with any sort of force-meat* you fancy, and fry them in hog’s lard, and then stew them in gravy and red wine.

** Force-meat – a stuffing, with either meat or bread as a base.

Fried sausages.

Take half a pound of sausages, and six apples; slice four about as thick as a crown, cut the other two in quarters, fry them with the sausages of a fine light brown, lay the sausages in the middle of the dish, and the apples round.  Garnish with the quartered apples.

Stewed cabbage and sausages fried is a good dish; then heat cold peas-pudding in the pan, lay it in the dish and the sausages round, heap the pudding in the middle, and lay the sausages all round thick up, edge-ways, and one in the middle at length.

Callops and eggs.

Cut either bacon, pickled beef, or hung mutton into thin slices; broil them nicely, lay them in a dish before the fire, have ready a stew-pan of water boiling, break as many eggs as you have collops, bream them one by one in a cup, and pour them into the stew-pan.  When the whites of the eggs begin to harden, and all look of a clear white, take them up one by one in an egg-slice, and lay them on the collops.

To dress cold fowl or pigeons.

Cut them in four quarters, beat up an egg or two, according to what you dress, grate a little nutmeg in, a little salt, some parsley chopped, a few crumbs of bread, beat them well together, dip them in this batter, and have ready some dripping hot in a stew-pan, in which fry them of a fine light brown:  have ready a little good gravy, thickened with a little flour, mixed with a spoonful of catchup; lay the fry in the dish, and pour the sauce over.  Garnish with lemon, and a few mushrooms, if you have any.  A cold rabbit eats well done thus.

To mince veal.

Cut your veal as fine as possible, but don’t chop it; grate a little nutmeg over it, shred a little lemon-peel very fine, throw a very little salt on it, drudge a little flour over it.  To a large plate of veal, take four or five spoonfuls of water, let it boil, then put in the veal, with a piece of butter as big as an egg, stir it well together; when it is all thorough hot, it is enough.  Have ready a very think piece of bread toasted brown, cut it into three-corner sippets*, lay it round the place, and pour in the veal.  Just before you pour it in, squeeze in half a lemon, or half a spoonful of vinegar.  Garnish with lemon.  You may put gravy in the room of water, if you love it strong, but it is better without.

*Sippet is the diminutive of sop, which was usually a small piece of bread to dip into a soup or broth.

To fry cold veal.

Cut it in pieces about as thick as half a crown, and as long as you please, dip them in the yolk of an egg, and then in crumbs of bread, with a few sweet-herbs, and shred lemon-peel in it; grate a little nutmeg over them, and fry them in fresh butter.  The butter must be hot, just enough to fry them in:  in the mean time, make a little gravy of the bone of the veal; when the meat is fried take it out with a fork, and lay it in a dish before the fire, then shake a little flour into the pan, and stir it round; then put in a little gravy, squeeze in a little lemon, and pour it over the veal.  Garnish with lemon.

To toss up cold veal white.

Cut the veal into little thin bits, put milk enough to it for sauce, grate in a little nutmeg, a very little salt, a little piece of butter rolled in flour:  to half a pint of milk, the yolks of two eggs well beat, a spoonful of mushroom-pickle, stir all together till it is thick; then pour it into your dish, and garnish with lemon.

Cold fowl skinned, and done this way, eats well; or the best end of a cold breast of veal; first fry it, drain it from the fat, then pour this sauce to it.

To hash cold mutton.

Cut your mutton with a very sharp knife in very little bits, as thin as possible; then boil the bones with an onions, a little sweet-herbs, a blade of mace, a very little whole pepper, a little salt, a piece of crust toasted very crisp; let it boil till there is just enough for a sauce, strain it, and put it into a sauce-pan, with a piece of butter rolled in flour; put in the meat, when it is very hot it is enough.  Have ready some thin bread toasted brown, cut three-corner-ways, lay them round the dish, and pour in the hash.  As to walnut-pickle, and all sorts of pickles, you must put in according to your fancy.  Garnish with pickles.  Some love a small onion peeled, and cut very small, and done in the hash.

To hash mutton like venison.

Cut it very thin as above; boil the bones as above; strain the liquor, where there is just enough for the hash, to a quarter of a pint of gravy put a large spoonful of red wine, an onion peeled and chopped fine, a very little lemon-peel shred fine, a piece of butter as big as a small walnut rolled in flour; put it into a sauce-pan with the meat, shake it all together, and when it is thoroughly hot, pour it into your dish.  Hash beef the same way.

To make collops of cold beef.

If you have any cold inside of a sirloin of beef, take off all the fat, cut it very thin in little bits, cut an onion very small, boil as much water as you think will do for sauce, season it with a little pepper and salt, and a bundle of sweet-herbs.  Let the water boil, then put in the meat, with a good piece of butter rolled in flour, shake it round, and stir it.  When the sauce is thick and the meat done, take out the sweet-herbs, and pour it into your dish.  They do better than fresh meat.

To make a florendine of veal.

Take two kidneys of a loin of veal, fat and all, and mince it very fine, then chop a few herbs and put to it, and add a few currants:  season it with cloves, mace, nutmeg, and a little salt, four or five yolks of eggs chopped fine, and some crumbs of bread, a pippin* or two chopped, some candied lemon-peel cut small, a little sack**, and orange flower-water.  Lay a sheet of puff paste at the bottom of your dish, and put in the ingredients, and cover it with another sheet of puff paste.  Bake it in a slack oven, scrape sugar*** on the top, and serve it up hot.

* Pippin:  Varieties of apples grown from the seed, or “pip.”

** Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands.

*** Sugar was sold in “sugarloafs”, rounded cylindrical cones that had to be scraped, or pieces broken off with sugar nips.

To make Salamongundy.

Take two or three Roman or cabbage lettuces, and when you have washed them clean, swing them pretty dry in a cloth; then beginning at the open end, cut them cross-ways, as fin as a good big thread, and lay the lettuces so cut, about an inch thick, all over the bottom of a dish.  When you have thus garnished your dish, take two cold roasted pullets or chickens, and cut the flesh off the breasts and wings into slices, about three inches long, a quarter of an inch broad, and as thin as a shilling:  lay them upon the lettuce round the end to the middle of the dish, and the other towards the brim; then having boned and cut six anchovies, cut each into eight pieces, lay them all between each slice of the fowls, then cut the lean meat off the legs into dice, and cut a lemon into small dice; then mince the yolks of four eggs, three or four anchovies, and a little parsley, and make a round heap of these in your dish, piling it up in the form of a sugar-loaf, and garnish it with onions as big as the yolks of eggs, boiled in a good deal of water very tender and white.  Put the largest of the onions in the middle of the top of the salamongundy, and lay the rest all round the brim of the dish, as thick as you can lay them; then beat some salad oil up with vinegar, salt, and pepper, and pour over it all.  Garnish with grapes just scalded, or French beans blanched, or astertion-flowers*, and serve it up for a first course.

*Astertion:  meaning uncertain.  She most likely meant Nasturtium, an edible perennial flower.

Another way.

Mince two chickens, either boiled or roasted, very fine, or veal, if you please; also mince the yolks of hard eggs very small, and mince the whites very small by themselves; shred the pulp or two or three lemons very small, then lay in your dish a layer of mince-meat, and a layer of yolks of eggs, a layer of whites, a layer of anchovies, a layer of your shred lemon-pulp, a layer of pickles, a layer of sorrel, a layer of spinach, and shallots shred small.  When you have filled a dish with the ingredients, set an orange or lemon on the top; then garnish with horse-raddish scraped, barberries, and sliced lemon.  Beat up some oil, with the juice of lemon, salt, and mustard, thick, and serve it up for a second course, side-dish, or middle dish, for supper.

A third Salamongundy.

Mince veal or fowl very small, a pickled herring boned and picked small, cucumber minced small, apples minced small, an onion peeled and minced small, some pickled red cabbage chopped small, cold pork minced small, or cold duck or pigeons minced small, boiled parsley chopped fine, celery cut small, the yolks of hard eggs chopped small, and the whites chopped small, and either lay all the ingredients by themselves separate on saucers, or in heaps in a dish.  Dish them out with what pickles you have, and sliced lemon nicely cut; and if you can get astertion-flower*, lay them round it.  This is a find middle-dish for supper; but you may always make salamongundy of such things as you have, according to your fancy.  The other sorts you have in the chapter of fasts.

*Astertion:  meaning uncertain.  She most likely meant Nasturtium, an edible perennial flower.

To make little pasties.

Take the kidney of a loin of veal cut very fine, with as much of the fat, the yolks of two hard eggs, seasoned with a little salt, and half a small nutmeg.  Mix them well together, then roll it well in a puff-paste crust, make three of it, and fry them nicely in hog’s lard or butter.

They make a pretty little dish for change.  You may put in some carrots, and a little sugar and spice, with the juice of an orange, and sometimes apples, first boiled and sweetened, with a little juice of lemon, or any fruit you please.

Petit patties for garnishing of dishes.

Make a short crust, roll it thick, make them about as big as the bowl of a spoon, and about an inch deep:  take a piece of veal, enough to fill the patty, as much bacon and beef-suet, shred them all very fine, season them with pepper and salt, and a little sweet-herbs; put them into a little stew-pan, keep turning them about with a few mushrooms chopped small, for eight or ten minutes; then fill your petty patties, and cover them with some crust.  Colour them with the yolk of an egg, and bake them.  Sometime fill them with oysters for fish, or the melts of the fish pounded, and seasoned with pepper and salt; fill them with lobsters, or what you fancy.  They make fine garnishing, and give a dish a fine look:  if for a calf’s head, the brains seasoned is most proper, and some with oysters.

Ox-palate baked.

When you salt a tongue, cut off the root, and take some ox palates, wash them clean, cut them into six or seven pieces, put them into an earthen pot, just cover them with water, put in a blade or two of mace, twelve whole pepper-corns, three or  four cloves, a little bundle of sweet-herbs, a small onion, half a spoonful of raspings; cover it close with brown paper, and let it be well baked.  When it comes out of the oven, season it with salt to your palate.

On Significance

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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty & blue, was the Earth.  I put up my thumb & shut one eye, & my thumb blotted out the planet Earth.  I didn’t feel like a giant.  I felt very, very small.”

Neil Armstrong

A Small Treatise on the Viking Age, began at Lindisfarne

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Viking Longboat

Viking Longboat

A novel for which I am currently researching is set in the Viking Age of Scotland, Norway, and in modern-day Britain.  The following is a snippet of the notes and thoughts I’ve percolated over while studying into this amazing time in world history:

I think it’s impossible to do justice to any information about the Vikings; their existence, culture, language, mentality, and the effect of their actions had repercussions that have echoed down through the ages.  They gave names to countless cities throughout the world, and even entire regions:  The Norse kingdom of Dublin (Old Norse for “Black Pool”) was a major centre of the Norse slave trade; Limerick, Wexford and Wicklow were other major ports of trade; Russia gets its name from them, and the list goes on and on. Had they not been so successful in the slave trade and conquest, entire regions of the earth would be populated differently, place names would be vastly different, and English would be a far poorer language than it is today.

A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter. (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, pg. 37)

This reference from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one of the most famous history books available in English, is a reference to what would become known as the beginning of the Viking Age, the attack on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne.  Firstly, I’d like to clarify a few points:  “Viking” is a term that first came into being, in its present spelling, in 1840; it entered English through the Old Norse term “vikingr” in 1807.  The Old Norse term meant “freebooter, pirate, sea-rover, or viking”, and the term “viking” meant “piracy, freebooting voyage.”  The armies of what we would call Vikings were referred to as Danes, and those who settled were known by the area they settled in, or visa-versa.  Those who settled in the north eastern regions of Europe were called Rus by their Arabian and Constantinopolitan trading partners, perhaps related to the Indo-European root for “red”, referring to their hair colour.  Oh, and not a single Norse helmet with horns has ever been found.

But I’d like to focus on a key point of the Lindisfarne episode, if one could refer so glibly to the slaughter of innocent monks and the beginning of the reign of terror that held the civilized world in constant fear for over two centuries:  Yes, the Vikings were violent; their religion of violent gods and bloody sacrifices and rituals encouraged and cultivated it to a fine art.  Yes, the Vikings were tradesmen, but they were also skilled pirates and raiders, that skill honed along their own home coasts for generations prior to their debut on the rest of the unsuspecting world.  Yes, it was known that monasteries held items sacred to the Christian faith, that just happened to be exquisitely wrought works of art made of gold and jewels.

Gold was one enticement; but their primary trading good was human flesh; slaves.  It was by far the most lucrative item, and readily had along any coast they chose; if too many died in the voyage, they could always just get more before they docked at Constantinople, Dublin, or any other major trading port.  So why did they slaughter the monks so mercilessly at Lindisfarne, when they would have gained more by taking them captive and either selling them as slaves, or selling them for ransom?  The answer might actually be found in Rome.

Charlemagne (ruled 768-814 AD) took up his father’s reigns and papal policies in 768 AD. From about 772 AD onwards, his primary occupation became the conversion to Christianity of the pagan Saxons along his northeastern frontier.  It is very important to make a distinction between the modern expressions of the Christian faith and the institution of power mongers of past centuries; Christianity then had extremely little to do with the teachings of Christ and far more to do with political and military power, coercion, and acquisition of wealth through those powers; it was a political means to their own end with the blessing of the most powerful politician in the history of the civilized world, the Pope.  Without his blessing and benediction, a king had not only very little power, but was exposed to attack from anyone who had “holy permission” to exterminate heathens; joining the ranks of the Christian church took on the all-important definition of survival, and protection from the others in those ranks being free to attack you at their leisure.

In the year 772 AD, Charlemagne’s forces clashed with the Saxons and destroyed Irmensul, the Saxon’s most holy shrine and likely their version of the Yggdrasil, the Tree of the World, of Scandinavian mythology.  In the Royal Frankish Annals of 775 AD, it was recorded that the king (Charlemagne) was so determined in his quest that he decided to persist until they were either defeated and forced to accept the papal authority (in the guise of “Christian faith”), or be entirely exterminated (Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, trans. Bernhard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers (Michigan 1972: 51).  Charlemagne himself conducted a few mass baptisms to underscore the close identification of his military power with the Christian church.

“In 782 the Saxons rebelled again and defeated the Franks in the Süntel hills. Charlemagne’s response was the infamous massacre of Verden on the banks of the river Aller, just south of the neck of the Jutland peninsula. As many as 4,500 unarmed Saxon captives were forcibly baptized into the Church and then executed.  Even this failed to end Saxon resistance and had to be followed up by a programme of transportations in 794 in which about 7,000 of them were forcibly resettled. Two further campaigns of forcible resettlement followed, in 797 and in 798….  Heathens were defined as less than fully human so that, under contemporary Frankish canon law, no penance was payable for the killing of one” [Ferguson, Robert (2009-11-05). The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings (Kindle Locations 1048-1051). Penguin UK. Kindle Edition.]

The defining of a heathen as less than human was actually not a unique idea;  Scandinavians were familiar with that notion from their own cultures, which defined slaves as less than human and therefore tradable goods; and if a freeman announced his intention of killing someone (anyone) it was not considered murder as the victim was given “fair” warning.

The more I understand of the connection between Charlemagne’s brutal policies toward what he considered sub-human pagans, the more I understand the reaction of retaliation toward the symbols of that so-called Christian faith, the monasteries and its inhabitants.  They slaughtered, trampled, polluted, dug up altars, stole treasures, killed some, enslaved some, drove out others naked while heaping insults on them, and others they drowned in the sea.  The latter was perhaps a tit-for-tat for those at Verden who were forcibly baptized and then killed.

Lindisfarne was merely the first major attack in Britain that was highly publicized (as chroniclers of history were usually monks, and those such as Alcuin knew the inhabitants of Lindisfarne personally), in what would become a 250-year reign of terror, violence, slavery, raping, pillaging, plundering and theft either by force or by Danegeld.  But as in all good histories, it’s important to remember that hurt people hurt people; the perpetrator was at one time a victim.  One might say that what goes around comes around.  It’s no excuse or downplay of what happened there, which literally changed the course of the civilized world, but it perhaps gives a wider perspective on the Vikings of the times rather than just the vicious raiders portrayed in so many documentaries.  And it is important to remember that Vikings did not equal Norsemen; the majority of Scandinavians were farmers and fishermen, living as peacefully as their times would allow, and even themselves victims to the occasional Viking raid.

Quote, Unquote

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Pietro Arentino, Line engraving.  Source:  Wiki Commons

Pietro Arentino, Line engraving. Source: Wiki Commons

“The art of pure line engraving is dying out.  We live at too fast a rate to allow for the preparation of such plates as our fathers appreciated.  If a picture catches the public fancy, the public must have an etched or a photogravure copy of it within a month or two of its appearance.  The days when engravers were wont to spend two or three years over a single place are for ever gone.” – Journal of the Institute of Jamaica, Volume 1, 1892

The History of the Ampersand & Other Ligatures

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Symbols The ampersand (&) may seem like a modern invention for lazy spellers, or a typesetter’s solution to limited space, or an English teacher’s pet peeve on exams; but it can actually be traced back to the 1st century Romans.  In English, “&” is pronounced “and” rather than its original Latin word “et” (meaning “and”).  Hannah Glasse’s writings show us that “etc.” was, in her time, written as “&c.” which may look strange to our modern sensibilities, but makes perfect sense when you know the origin of the ampersand.

There are many examples of ligature (characters consisting of two or more symbols combined into one) in use today; everyday symbols we use likely have quite a history.  Have you ever wondered about @, #, ©, ¶, or % ?  Or even “?” ?  And no, I’m not cussing.

Many currency symbols are a combination of words or letters:  The British pound symbol £ derives from the Roman word “Librae;” Libra was the basic Roman unit for weight, derived from the Latin word for “scales,” or “balance.”  “L” was the abbreviation (see, we aren’t the first generation of lazy spellers; but then again, you would be too if you had to chisel it into stone, or cure hides for scrolls).  The Pound Sterling has quite a pedigree, and is worth a read over at WikipediaEmoticons

Our modern language has added Emoticons to the list of ligature symbols; many computers automatically convert certain combinations of symbols into a different one altogether; :+-+) becomes ☺, ❤ becomes ♥; for more, see the attached images.

Our language is full of history; those little symbols, punctuation marks that we take for granted, that necessary “@” for connecting to the world… what would we do without it?  And a hundred years from now, teenagers will be surprised how old ☺ is.  They might even wonder what a computer keyboard with individual keys looked like.

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