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I got Staffa’d

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If you’ve wondered why my last post was over a month ago, it’s because when I go on holiday I do just that – I take leave of life, of schedules, of obligations and responsibilities.  Now that I’m back, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

They say you should write what you know; after our recent holidays to Scotland, I can now add to my arsenal that of being badly injured on a remote, uninhabited island!

The Isle of Staffa

The Isle of Staffa

If you’ve never heard of the small Isle of Staffa, you don’t know what you’ve been missing:  Made of basalt columns, the island and its outcrops rise out of the Atlantic in an otherworldly fashion.  For hundreds of years tourists have been going to see this phenomenon of nature, and in  1829 it even inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave).  Fingal is the figure in the legend connecting Staffa with the same geology in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway:  The legend is that Fingal was a Gaelic giant who had a feud with an Ulster giant; in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland.  Irish tales differ to Scottish as to how the causeway was destroyed, but only the two ends remained – one at Staffa and the other in Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Other famous visitors to the island include Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Now to my own experience:  My husband Stefan and I were on the Isle of Mull off of the west coast of Scotland; we left our motor home there for the day and took a small boat, along with about thirty other hearty souls, on a 50-minute ride across open ocean to Staffa.  It is never guaranteed that the boats can actually land on the island, but on the day we took the excursion the weather was perfect, and the sea was as calm as open sea can be without the doldrums.

A larger ship than our own tour boat, at the Staffa pier.

A larger ship than our own tour boat, at the Staffa pier.

To get to the stone pier on Staffa, here’s how it’s done:  The captain of the boat waits outside of the jagged basalt outcrops jutting out from the island until a wave swells large enough to heave the boat in; then he revs the engine and speeds up to the pier on the lift of the wave.  From there, passengers are gradually handed off one at a time whenever the boat and the pier are relatively even between the swell of waves.  This same process is repeated to reload passengers, and the same at the pier of Mull (without the jagged rocks).

We landed safely and were walking, carefully watching each step on the uneven hexagonal basalt columns, toward Fingal’s Cave; I was literally thirty steps from the cave when my left ankle turned on a column that was apparently split, though the two surfaces were not visible on the black stones due to the angle of the sun.  Turned, as in dislocated… as in the foot was completely sideways at an angle one should never have to see one’s own foot!  I grabbed for the railing to keep from falling and swung myself to sit on a taller column; Stefan was right there, and I told him to “grab my ankle and wrench it back into place!”  Fortunately he didn’t stop to think about it – he just did it!  I could feel that it wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t going to be happy with me either.

Just passing us on their way back from the cave were a Canadian fire fighter’s wife and her adult son; she knew first aid and went into immediate action, having us pour cold water on my sock to keep it soaked and cold since we had no ice pack; she also gave me strong Tylenol and some extra to keep the pain and swelling in check.  I think my husband was in a bit of shock at what had just happened; I asked him to go on to the cave and take photos since I wouldn’t make it… it was also a way of giving him time to adjust, and to let him know that I wasn’t seriously injured, though I only thought of those reasons later.  The woman and her son helped me back to the stone pier; what had taken me five minutes to walk took twenty minutes back.  Now, remember how they landed the boat and disembarked passengers?  Do that with one foot.  Twice.

A bit of surf to contend with.

A bit of surf to contend with.

The boat crew called the doctor on Mull, and he met us at his practice (once we manoeuvred the motor home up the single-track roads there).  Without an x-ray machine he couldn’t tell if it was broken; perhaps hairline fractured.  If that were the case, either way I’d just need to keep my foot elevated; a compression tube sock was my only new wardrobe accessory.  When we got out to have lunch in a pub at Fionnphort (the port for excursions), the waitress asked what happened and then said, “Let me guess:  Staffa?”  Thus, apparently, I can be added to a long list of injured tourists who got Staffa’d.

The blessing in disguise of it happening only a few days into our holidays was that I had two weeks of forced inaction to elevate my foot; thanks to the “brilliant” NHS system of Britain, it was impossible to get a pair of crutches that might have enabled me to leave the motor home (in Switzerland, one stop at the pharmacy got me rented crutches), so I got to see Scotland from the inside of the ‘home!  It wasn’t our first trip there, and certainly won’t be our last, so I didn’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime trip; and my attitude is that complaining about lost opportunities is simply a waste of time and energy – the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it.  My husband became my eyes and ears outside of the ‘home, and when he was out on hikes and excursions I got a lot of reading and writing toward my next novel done!  I still have a month to go of behaving myself – no dancing, hiking, or even driving a car – so I guess I’ll have a lot more time to read and write!

Pietre Dure: Eternal Paintings

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I recently came across an interesting bit of information on past centuries’ continental tourists:  Searching for a way to display stones collected among Italy’s ruins and landscapes, these tourists discovered that they could have their stone specimens transformed into pieces of furniture or pottery, such as tabletops or bowls, in the ancient art of pietre dure (particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries).  Often floral or geometric designs, the tourist would collect semi-precious stones such as agate, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, marble, onyx, topaz and many others, and have them worked into a treasured souvenir to bring home.  Click on the image below to read an article from the Select Italy Travel blog for an interesting piece on the topic.

Poccetti - Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

Poccetti – Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

The History of Villa Helios, Lugano, Switzerland

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DSCN2646 - Lugano, 20 June 2014 - Resized

Lake Lugano, the city of Lugano, and San Salvatore, one of the many mountains in and around Lugano

I’ve been gone on holidays (thus the lack of posting – I DO know how to leave work behind… well, almost), and thought I’d write about a place I’ve come to know over the years:  My in-laws have a holiday flat with an amazing view over Lago di Lugano here in Switzerland, and we’ve come for a week nearly every year for the past 20 years.  The photo shows part of our view (I’d have to do a panorama shot as our view goes from Casserate to Caprino), and for as many years we’d looked down upon Villa Helios, watching her rot away like an abandoned old lady.  I don’t know her history; it may be one of the dozens of cases around Lugano in which there is an inheritance squabble, and the property is shut up until the cases are settled; if the parties pass away in the meantime and the issue of inheritance goes to a new generation that frankly doesn’t want to be saddled with a decaying mansion with pretensions of palace, it continues to sit. A few years ago we were pleased to see that at long last, renovation had begun.  And it continues still; the exterior is beginning to take shape, though as far as I can tell the inside has a long, long, long way to go.  I have heard through the grapevine that it is intended to become individual apartments, which will take some major work inside to divide up, wire, add plumbing and create separate entrances.

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The dome of Villa Helios

Precisely because we’ve looked out over the villa for more than 20 years, speculated, wondered, and asked questions of the passing hawks because no one else seemed to have any answers, my writer’s curiosity took over and began to form a novel; I work on it when we’re down there as a nice change of pace from my other novels and writing projects.

I do know that the villa was designed by architect Otto Maraini, who was born in Lugano on 8 November 1863, and died there 16 January 1944. Helios Villa in Castagnola was built in 1901-1902, including a series of walls and terraces that formed part of the lake shore. I came across a few historical photos at arteeidee – thank you for sharing these old magazine photos (“The modern building” monthly magazine of architecture and construction practice, August 1904)!  Check out that blog post for the older photos (click on them to enlarge); The photos I’ve added here are current shots. For the writers out there, find an interesting old building in your own area, research into its history, and create a story with the building as one of the characters and not merely a location.

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Villa Helios, as seen from the lake

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The terraced walls leading down toward the lake shore

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The front entrance of Villa Helios, under construction

The History of the Nativity & Christmas

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by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

In 1223, in Greccio, Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi is accredited with creating the first Nativity Scene.  We tend to think of commercialism and materialism as a modern disease, but in fact Francis created that display to be a visual reminder of what Christmas was all about, and to counter what he felt was a growing emphasis on secular materialism and gift-giving.  It was to be a day of celebration and worship of thanks to God for what he had inaugurated through the birth of the prophesied Messiah, Jesus.

When we think of a modern nativity scene we think of a few elements as standard:  Shepherds, Jesus in a wooden manger of straw, three kings, angels, and cattle and donkeys and sheep.  In fact, the stable was more likely a cave or a small hand-dug dugout, a shelter for animals in cold weather or raids, and perhaps a place to store surplus grains or foodstuffs.  The manger was a feeding trough, much like modern feeding troughs found on small farms.  The shepherds “watching the flocks by night”  tells us that it was likely in spring or summer in that region; the day we celebrate as Christmas was adopted throughout Western Europe in the fourth century.  Imagine the scenario:  Rome had called for a census of the entire region, turning everything on its head as everyone was required to travel to their ancestral homes, including businessmen like Joseph, and innkeepers as well.  Hundreds of people descended en masse onto a sleepy little village unequipped with beds or food to cope with them all.  Perhaps Joseph had tried at several places; perhaps there was only one Bed & Breakfast in the entire village; turned away, they headed back to the stable to get their donkey, and uh, “Wait!  The baby’s coming!”

The kings were actually Magi, likely a caste of scientists and astronomers, from the “east” – i.e. east of Israel, which could have made them Asian, Indian, Caucasian, or African.  There were not three, but rather three gifts:  Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  In reality their number might have been more like a small army (they would not have travelled such a distance with the quantities of gifts fit not only for a king but representing their own importance as well as the honour they wished to bestow on this new king, without protection!); the Bible records that King Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed by their presence and the reason for their journey (Matthew 2).  The three gifts offered by the Magi were very telling:  Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth.  It is one of the only metals that, when heated, loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but allows impurities to surface.  It is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement.  Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity.  It was familiar to most people in the ancient world, used in religious ceremonies.  Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter.  It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead, and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming:  His death, burial and resurrection.  It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth.  It was used medicinally as a pain killer (often dissolved in wine) which is the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23).  And note that the Magi did not show up at the manger in Bethlehem, but by the time they’d travelled that far and found Jesus, he was a child, and Mary and Joseph had set up house (Matthew 2:11)

ichthusLet’s address one more historical topic:  Xmas.  Many people think it’s a modern attempt to “X” Christ from Christmas; but in fact it is just the opposite, historically-speaking.  The X is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English translated as “Christ.” and such abbreviated references date back as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1021.  Even further back, ΙΧΘΥΣ (Icthus) was an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” used by ancient Christians.  It is often placed within the symbol of a fish, as Jesus called his disciples to become “fishers of men.”  Ichthyology is the study of fish, reflecting the Greek connection for the use of the symbol.

Modern Nativity scenes represent a condensed version of a historical event (there is more historical evidence for Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection than many other events in history people simply accept as fact); so the next time you see one, think about the significance, the reason for its inception by St. Francis of Assisi in the first place, and the Reason for the season.

Merry Christmas!  Or, Merry Xmas!

Avaldsnes – A Hidden Gem

I recently went to Norway on a holiday/research trip for a novel I’m in the process of writing; however, Norway seems to carry its dislike of small-talk into the arena of promotion and marketing, and as a result its museums and attractions are not as well advertised, marketed or signposted as they could be; we only found out about this little gem of a site because we happened to run into a Swiss friend in Haugesund, and he knew of the place!  I promised the curators to get the word out, so here’ goes, and with pleasure:

On the island of Karmøy, along the western coast of Norway, sits Avaldsnes.  With over 50,000 islands in Norway it wouldn’t seem to our modern minds, as dominated by cars and roads as we are, to be a significant location.  But Avaldsnes is rewriting Viking history.  It has long been a place from which to control shipping passages through the narrow neck of the Karmunsundet, also called the Seaway to the North, or in Norwegian “Nordvegen,” and it is the maritime route that eventually gave its name to the country.

The kings of sagas and lays have become real at Avaldsnes, the rich archaeological finds there making it one of the most important locations in Europe for the study of Viking history.  Avaldsnes was a royal seat; so it’s not surprising that some of the most important burials in Norway have been found here:  One of its ship burials was dated to the 8th century (making it much older than any other known such burials).  It was clearly a king’s burial, and the findings there have proven its political importance several hundred years before King Harald Fairhair unified Norway.

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St. Olav’s Church

Today there are three points of interest at Avaldsnes, all within walking distance from each other:  St. Olav’s church, built on the site of the oldest church in Norway, was commissioned by King Håkon Håkonson around 1250 AD as part of the royal manor complex.  On the north side of the church stands the Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle, one of Norway’s tallest standing stones measuring in at 7.2 metres today, though it was originally much taller:  The local legend says that when the obelisk touches the wall of the church Doomsday will come; so over the years priests have climbed the stone in the dead of night to chip away any threatening pieces from the top, thus saving the world from annihilation.  This church was an important site for pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (the medieval name for Trondheim, the capital of the land’s first Christian kings and the centre of Norwegian spiritual life up until the Protestant Reformation); on the north side of the church is a sealed door which was originally the entrance for those pilgrims, as it is said that they had to enter any church with their backs to the north.

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Nordvegen Historic Centre

The next site is the Nordvegen Historic Centre; at first glance it is merely a circular stone monument, but it is actually a stairway leading down into the underground museum, built so as to not interfere with the landscape.  The exhibitions guide you (with a bit of modern technology) through 3,500 years of history through Avaldsnes, focusing on daily life, international contacts and cultural influences from those contacts.  Foreign trade and communication was a major factor at Avaldsnes, and archaeological evidence shows it to be a barometer to the prosperity and decline of European commerce as a whole.  The museum has a hands-on section, as well as a gift shop that’s well-stocked with books covering various aspects of Viking history.

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The Viking Farm

The third site is a hidden gem, located about 20 minutes’ walk from St. Olav’s:  The Viking farm.  The gravel path takes you along the shore, over two bridges and through a forest to a small island.  It’s well worth the hike as you come through the forest to find a Viking village, tucked behind a typical Telemark-style fence.  A 25-metre longhouse is the centrepiece, a reconstruction of a 950 AD house, and built of pine and oak, with windows of mica sheets.  The aroma of tar wafts from the house as you approach, being painted with pitch to weather-proof it; the smell reminds me of a dark peat-whiskey.  [The photo of the longhouse has one element missing to the trained eye:  The low stone wall which should surround the house, as insulation, is missing at the moment while boards are being repaired.]  Other buildings on the farm include pit houses (both woven twig walls as well as wattle and daub) used for activities such as weaving, cooking or food preparation, and other crafts necessary to daily life; a round house, a reconstruction of archaeological finds in Stavanger (which may be a missing link between temples and stave churches in their construction); various buildings of a smaller size, and at the shore is a 32-metre leidang boat house, representing a part of the naval defence system developed in the Viking Age; a settlement with a leidang was expected to man the ship with warriors and weapons when the king called upon them for aid.  When the boat house was vacant of its ship, it was used as a feasting hall, and the modern replica follows that example; it is often hired out for celebrations or festivals.

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The Leidang Boat House

Both the museum and the Viking farm have friendly and knowledgeable staff; the farm staff are all in hand-made period clothing and shoes; as a matter of fact one of the women was working on her dress while we were there, and she said it was linen; the total hours to make such a dress from start to finish would be around 600 hours – had it been leather, it would have taken much, much longer.  That is why clothing was very valuable, and most people only had the clothes on their back; you were considered wealthy if you had a change of clothing, even into the mid-eighteenth century in countries such as England.

If you are interested in Viking history, Avaldsnes is well worth the journey.  Take your time; we stayed overnight in the area to spread the visit out over two days, and we could have spent much more time there.  If you’re a natural introvert like me, you’ll need time to process the multitude of impressions, but that’s what we like – quality time, and quality input.  And then get the word out about these points of interest!

Scandinavian Scotland

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An ancient broch along the road near Ben Hope, Highlands (taken July 2012,  ©Stephanie Huesler)

An ancient broch along the road near Ben Hope, Highlands (taken July 2012, ©Stephanie Huesler)

Having lived in Scotland, I have a deep love of all things Scottish (except the freezing cold horizontal winter rains).  My husband’s and my wedding rings were handmade in Orkney, and are covered with runes that translate as “Dreams of Everlasting Love.”  And of course we had to go to Orkney to pick them out…

A novel I’m working on between my more pressing projects (an 18th century English historical trilogy) is set in 8th century Scotland and Norway, as well as modern Scotland.  It’s a great excuse to go on holidays to those places, and I’ll be heading to Norway soon for a research trip.  If you’re unfamiliar with ancient Scotland, here’s your chance to learn something new: has a great article, covering quite a few aspects of history.  Enjoy reading, but don’t forget that the best way to experience history is by going to that place and imbibing in the atmosphere itself.  It’s my invitation to you, to go on holiday to the Highlands of Scotland!

The Art of Cookery Continued: Chapter II: Made Dishes, Part 2

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One cooking technique that is described a few times in this chapter is touched on briefly in Hannah’s recipe for roasting a turkey “the genteel way”:  It was to gut the bird, or animal part (sometimes even the skull), cook the removed bits in some form, and then re-stuff the carcass to make it appear as if it were whole.  It was about presentation of the final dish on the dining table, and eighteenth century dining presentations were elaborate, to say the least.  The American holidays use the same idea, in stuffing a turkey; it’s just that our modern sensibilities find it more tasteful to serve it without feet and head!  In that time and age, however, every part of the animal was used; you’ll even find quite a few recipes calling for cox-combs…

To collar a breast of mutton.

Do it the same way, and it eats very well.  But you must take off the skin.

Another way to dress a breast of mutton.

Collar it as before, roast it, and baste it with half a pint of red wine, and when that is all soaked in, baste it well with butter, have a little good gravy, set the mutton upright in the dish, pour in the gravy, have a sweet sauce as for venison, and send it to table.  Don’t garnish the dish, but be sure to take the skin off the mutton.

The inside of a sirloin of beef is very good done this way.  If you don’t like the wine, a quart of milk, and a quarter of a pound of butter, put into the dripping-pan, does full as well to baste it.

To force a leg of lamb.

With a sharp knife carefully take out all the meat, and leave the skin whole and the fat on it, make the lean you cut out into the force-meat thus:  to two pounds of meat, add three pounds of beef-suet cut fine, and beat in a marble mortar till it is very fine, and take away all the skin of the meat and suet, when mix with it four spoonfuls of grated bread, eight or ten cloves, five or six large blades of mace dried and beat find, half a large nutmeg grated, a little pepper and salt, a little lemon-peel cut fine, a very little thyme, some parsley and four eggs; mix all together, put into the skin again just as it was, in the same shape, sew it up, roast it, baste it with butter, cut the loin into steaks and fry it nicely, lay the leg in the dish and the loin round it, with stewed cauliflower (see “to dress cauliflowers”) all round upon the loin; pour a pint of good gravy into the dish, and send it to table.  If you don’t like the cauliflower, it may be omitted.

To boil a leg of lamb.

Let the leg be boiled very white.  An hour will do it.  Cut the loin into steaks, dip them into a few crumbs of bread and egg, fry them nice and brown, boil a good deal of spinach and lay in the dish; put the leg in the middle, lay the loin round it, cut an orange in four and garnish the dish, and have butter in a cup.  Some love the spinach boiled, then drained, put into a sauce-pan with a good piece of butter, and stewed.

To force a large fowl.

Cut the skin down the back, and carefully flip it up so as to make out all the meat, mix it with one pound of beef-suet, cut it small, and beat them together in a marble mortar:  take a pint of large oysters cut small, two anchovies cut small, one shallot cut fine, a few sweet-herbs, a little pepper, a little nutmeg grated, and the yolks of four eggs; mix altogether and lay this on the bones, draw over the skin and sew up the back, pout the fowl into a bladder, boil it an hour and a quarter, stew some oysters in a good gravy thickened with a piece of butter rolled in flour, take the fowl out of the bladder, lay it in your dish and pour the sauce over it.  Garnish with lemon.

It eats much better roasted with the same sauce.

To roast a turkey the genteel way.

First cut it down the back, and with a sharp penknife bone it, then make your force-meat thus:  Take a large fowl, or a pound of veal, as much grated bread, half a pound of suet cut and beat very fine, a little beaten mace, two cloves, half a nutmeg grated, about a large tea-spoonful of lemon-peel, and the yolks of two eggs; mix all together, with a little pepper and salt, fill up the places where the bones came out, and fill the body, that it may look just as it did before, sew up the back, and roast it.  You may have oyster-sauce, celery sauce, or just as you please; but good gravy in the dish, and garnish with lemon, is as good as any thing.  Be sure to leave the pinions* on.

*pinion:  She is either referring to the wings, or to the bindings one might have used in the sewing up and “make it look just as it did before” – process.

To stew a turkey or fowl.

First let your pot be very clean, lay four clean skewers at the bottom, lay your turkey or fowl upon them, put in a quart of gravy, take a bunch of celery, cut it small, and wash it very clean, put it into your pot, with two or three blades of mace, let it stew softly till there is just enough for sauce, then add a good piece of butter rolled in flour, two spoonfuls of red wine, two of catchup, and just as much pepper and salt as will season it, lay your fowl or turkey in the dish, pour the sauce over and sent it to table.  If the fowl or turkey is enough before the sauce, take it up, and keep it up till the sauce is boiled enough, then put it in, let it boil a minute or two, and dish it up.

To stew a knuckle of veal.

Be sure to let the pot or saucepan be very clean, lay at the bottom four clean wooden skewers, wash and clean the knuckle very well, then lay it in the pot with two or three blades of mace, a little whole pepper, a little piece of thyme, a small onion, a crust of bread, and two quarts of water.  Cover it down close, make it boil, then only let it simmer for two hours, and when it is enough take it up; lay it in a dish, and strain the broth over it.

Another way to stew a knuckle of veal.

Clean it as before directed, and boil it till there is just enough for sauce, add one spoonful of catchup, one of red wine, and one of walnut pickle, some truffles and morels, or some dried mushrooms cut small; boil it all together, take up the knuckle, lay it in a dish, pour the sauce over it, and send it to table.

Note, It eats very well done as the turkey, before directed.

To ragoo a piece of beef.

Take a large piece of the flank, which has fat at the top cut square, or any piece that is all meat, and has fat at the top, but no bones.  The rump does well.  Cut all nicely off the bone (which makes fine soup), then take a large stew-pan, and with a good piece of butter fry it a little brown all over, flouring your meat well before you put it into the pan, then pour in as much gravy as will cover it, made thus:  take about a pound of coarse beef, a little piece of veal cut small, a bundle of sweet-herbs, an onion, some whole black pepper and white pepper, two or three large blades of mace, four or five cloves, a piece of carrot, a little piece of bacon steeped in vinegar a little while, a crust of bread toasted brown; put to this a quart water, and let it boil till half is wasted.  While this is making, pour a quart of boiling water into the stew-pan, cover it close, and let it be stewing softly; when the gravy is done strain it, pour into the pan where the beef is, take an ounce of truffles and morels cut small, some fresh or dried mushrooms cut small, two spoonfuls of catchup, and cover it close.  Let all this stew till the sauce is rich and thick; then have ready some artichoke bottoms cut into four, and a few pickled mushrooms, give them a boil or two, and when your meat is tender and your sauce quite rich, lay the meat into a dish and pour the sauce over it.  You may add a sweetbread* cut in six pieces, a palate stewed tender cut into little pieces, some cocks-combs, and a few force meat balls.  These are a great addition, but it will be good without.

Note, For variety, when the beef is ready and the gravy put to it, add a large bunch of celery cut small and washed clean, two spoonfuls of catchup, and a glass of red wine.  Omit all the other ingredients.  When the meat and celery are tender, and the sauce is rich and good, serve it up.  It is also very good this way:  take six large cucumbers, scoop out the seeds, pare them, cut them into slices, and do them just as you do the celery.

 *Culinary names for the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck) or the pancreas (also heart, stomach, or belly) especially of the calf (ris de veau) and lamb (ris d’agneau) (although beef and pork sweetbreads are also eaten).

To force the inside of a sirloin of beef.

Take a sharp knife, and carefully lift up the fat of the inside, take out all the meat close to the bone, chop it small, take a pound of suet, and chop fine, about as many crumbs of bread, a little thyme and lemon peel, a little pepper and salt, half a nutmeg grated, and two shallots chopped fine; mix all together, with a glass of red wine, then put it into the same place, cover it with the skin and fat, skewer it down with fine skewers, and cover it with paper.  Don’t take the paper off till the meat is on the dish.  Take a quarter of a pint of red wine, two shallots shred small, boil them, and pour into the dish, with the gravy which comes out of the meat; it eats well.  Spit your meat before you take out the inside.

Another way to force a sirloin.

When it is quite roasted, take it up, and lay it in the dish with the inside uppermost, with a sharp knife lift up the skin, hack and cut the inside very fine, shake a little pepper and salt over it, with two shallots, cover it with the skin, and send it to table.  You may add red wine or vinegar, just as you like.

To force the inside of a rump of beef.

You may do it just in the same manner, only lift up the outside skin, take the middle of the meat, and do as before directed; put it into the same place, and with fine skewers put it down close.

A rolled rump of beef.

Cut the meat all off the bone whole, slit the inside down from top to bottom, but not through the skin, spread it open, take the flesh of two fowls and beef-suet, an equal quantity, and as much cold boiled ham, if you have it, a little pepper, an anchovy, a nutmeg grated, a little thyme, a good deal of parsley, a few mushrooms, and chop them all together, beat them in a mortar, with a half-pint bason full of crumbs of bread; mix all these together, with four yolks of eggs, lay it into the meat, cover it up, and roll it round, stick one skewer in, and tie it with a packthread cross and cross to hold it together; take a pot or large saucepan that will just hold it, lay a layer of bacon and a layer of beef cut in thin slices, a piece of carrot, some whole pepper, mace, sweet herbs, and a large onion, lay the rolled beef on it, just put water enough to the top of the beef; cover it close, and let it stew very softly on a slow fire for eight or ten house, but not to fast.  When you find the beef tender, which you will know by running a skewer into the meat, then take it up, cover it up hot, boil the gravy till it is good, then strain it off, and add some mushrooms chopped, some truffles and morels cut small, two spoonfuls of red or white wine, the yolks of two eggs and a piece of butter rolled in flour; boil it together, set the meat before the fire, baste it with butter, and throw crumbs of bread all over it:  when the sauce is enough, lay the meat into the dish and pour the sauce over it.  Take care the eggs do not curd.

To boil a rump of beef the French fashion.

Take a rump of beef, boil it half an hour, take it up, lay it into a large deep pewter dish or stew-pan, cut three or four gashes in it all along the side, rub the gashes with pepper and salt, and pour into the dish a pint of red wine, as much hot water, two or three large onions cut small, the hearts of eight or ten lettuces cut small, and a good piece of butter rolled in a little flour; lay the fleshy part of the meat downwards, cover it close, let it stew an hour and a half over a charcoal fire, or a very slow coal fire.  Observe that the butcher chops the bone so close, that the meat may lie as flat as you can in the dish.  When it is enough, take the beef, lay it in the dish, and pour the sauce over it.

Note,  When you do it in a pewter dish, it is best done over a chaffing-dish of hot coals, with a bit or two of charcoal to keep it alive.

Beef escarlot.

Take a briscuit of beef, half a pound of coarse sugar, two ounces of bay salt, a pound of common salt; mix all together, and rub the beef, lay it in an earthen pan, and turn it every day.  It may lie a fortnight in the pickle; then boil it, and serve it up either with savoys or pease pudding.

Note, It eats much finer cold, cut into slices, and sent to table.

Beef à la daub.

You may take a buttock or a rump of beef, lard it, fry it brown in some sweet butter, then put it into a pot that will just hold it; put in some broth or gravy hot, some pepper, cloves, mace, and a bundle of sweet-herbs, stew it four hours till it is tender, and season it with salt; take half a pint of gravy, two sweetbreads* cut into eight pieces, some truffles and morels, palates, artichoke bottoms, and mushrooms, boil all together, lay your beef into the dish; strain the liquor into the sauce, and boil all together.  If it is not thick enough, roll a piece of butter in flour, and boil in it; pour this all over the beef.  Take forcemeat rolled in pieces half as long as one’s finger; dip them into batter made with eggs, and fry them brown; fry some sippets** dipped into batter cut three corner-ways, stick them into the meat, and garnish with the force meat.

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

* Culinary names for the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck) or the pancreas (also heart, stomach, or belly) especially of the calf (ris de veau) and lamb (ris d’agneau) (although beef and pork sweetbreads are also eaten).

Beef à la mode in pieces.

You must take a buttock of beef, cut it into two-pound pieces, lard them with bacon, fry them brown, put them into a pot that will just hold them, put in two quarts of broth or gravy, a few sweet-herbs, an onion, some mace, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and salt; when that is done, cover it close, and stew it till it is tender, skim off all the fat, lay the meat in the dish, and strain the sauce over it.  You may serve it up hot or cold.

Beef à la mode, the French way.

Take a piece of the buttock of beef, and some fat bacon cut into little long bits, then take two tea-spoonfuls of salt, one teaspoonful of beaten pepper, one of beaten mace, and one of nutmeg; mix all together, have your larding pins ready, first dip the bacon in vinegar, then roll it in your spice, and lard your beef very thick and nice; put the meat into a pot with two or three large onions, a good piece of lemon-peel, a bundle of herbs, and three or four spoonfuls of vinegar; cover it down close, and put a wet cloth round the edge of the cover, that no steam can get out, and set it over a very slow fire:  when you think one side is done enough, turn the other, and cover it with the rind of the bacon; cover the pot close again as before, and when it is enough (which it will be when quite tender) take it up and lay it in your dish, take off all the fat from the gravy, and pour the gravy over the meat.  If you chuse your beef to be red, you may rub it with saltpetre overnight.

Note, You must take great care in doing your beef this way that your fire is very slow; it will at least take six hours doing, if the piece be any thing large.  If you would have the sauce very rich, boil half an ounce of truffles and morels in half a pint of good gravy, till they are very tender, and all a gill of pickled mushrooms, but fresh ones are best; mix all together with the gravy of the meat, and pour it over your beef.  You must mind and beat all your spices very fine; and if you have not enough, mix some more, according to the bigness of your beef.

Beef olives.

Take a rump of beef, cut it into steaks half a quarter long, about an inch thick, let them be square; lay on some good forcemeat made with veal, roll them, tie them once round with a hard knot, dip them in egg, crumbs of bread, and grated nutmeg, and a little pepper and salt.  The best way is to roast them, or fry them brown in fresh butter, lay them every one on a bay-leaf, and cover them over one with a piece of bacon toasted, have some good gravy, a few truffles and morels, and mushrooms; boil all together, pour into the dish, and send it to table.

Veal olives.

They are good done the same way, only roll them narrow at one end and broad at the other.  Fry them of a fine brown.  Omit the bay leaf, but lay little pieces of bacon about two inches long on them.  The same sauce.  Garnish with lemon.

Beef collops.

Cut them into thin pieces about two inches long, beat them with the back of a knife very well, grate some nutmeg, flour them a little, lay them in a stew-pan, put in as much water as you think will do for sauce, half an onion cut small, a little piece of lemon-peel cut small, a bundle of sweet-herbs, a little pepper and salt, a piece of butter rolled in a little flour.  Set them on a slow fire:  when they begin to simmer, stir them now and then; when they begin to be hot, ten minutes will do them, but take care they do not boil.  Take out the sweet-herbs, pour it into the dish, and send it to table.

Note, You may do the inside of a sirloin of beef in the same manner, the day after it is roasted, only do not beat them, but cut them thin.

N.B. You may do this dish between two pewter dishes, hang them between two chairs, take six sheets of white brown paper, tear them into slips, and burn them under the dish once piece at a time.

* collops – a small piece of meat, either thin slices or minced meat of either beef, lamb or venison.

To stew beef-steaks.

Take rump steaks, pepper and salt them, lay them in a stew-pan, pour in half a pint of water, a blade or two of mace, two or three cloves, a little bundle of sweet-herbs, an anchovy, a piece of butter rolled in flour, a glass of white wine, and an onion; cover them close, and let them stew softly till they are tender, then take out the steaks, flour them, fry them in fresh butter, and pour away all the fat, strain the sauce they were stewed in, and pour into the pan; toss it all up together till the sauce is quite hot and thick.  If you add a quarter of a pint of oysters, it will make it the better.  Lay the steaks into the dish, and pour the sauce over them.  Garnish with any pickle you like.

The History of Valentine’s Day

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Vintage Valentine CardWith Valentine’s Day come and gone, I thought I’d just say a bit about the actual history of the celebration of love.  Throughout history there have been variations of celebrations of love, but they didn’t always take on the innocuous form that modern-day marketing departments have dreamed up.  Here in Switzerland 14 February is still fairly similar to 14 March – in other words, just another day in the calendar.  But celebrating love, in whatever form it takes, from loving your spouse or partner to loving your parents, your friends, pets or kids, is never a bad idea.  So let’s take a look at how bygone ages viewed it:

The innocently playful Valentine card started off more like a lottery ticket:  In ancient Rome, during the celebration of Lupercalia, the names of willing young ladies were put into a box and mixed up; young, available men could draw out a card at random, and that young woman or girl was thus won to remain his companion for the length of the celebration which lasted the modern date equivalent of 13-15 February, and was accompanied by animal sacrifices (a goat and dog).  Nothing said romance to the Romans like blood and guts and the smell of burning fur, apparently.

After a few centuries, the established Church realized that though you can lead a horse to water you can’t make it drink; so instead of forbidding the celebrations, they adapted them to be less offensive:  Their version was also a bit less entertaining; they drew names from the lottery as before but this time instead of young women, the name of a saint was drawn to whom prayers would be offered.  It was at this stage that Saint Valentine came to be associated with the day, as he had a reputation for being warm-hearted.  So the lottery for girls continued, perhaps more or less under the table, while ostensibly under the patronage of a saint.  By 1725 it had evolved into a game of drawing lots from two vessels, one each for men and women; their lot drawn was then their “Valentine”.  Not so sure how that worked – there must have been a prodigious amount of love triangles as the woman drew one name, the man drew another, and so on…

Another evolution in the celebration was as follows:  The first man seen by a woman that morning (outside her own household) became her willy-nilly Valentine, and neither could look for an alternative.  The famous Pepys left his home early on the morning of 14 February 1661 to be assured of getting the “right” Valentine, swapping a friend’s wife for his own for the day in a good-natured jest with the four of them.  It was customary at that time to give a handsome present to the Valentine’s woman, so it was worth getting a good one.  Mrs. Pepys got half a dozen pairs of gloves and a pair of silk stockings and garters out of that swap, so I can imagine that her husband did no less for his friend’s wife!

Letters to Valentines began as early as 1479, with references found in the Paston Letters, and continued for over 300 years.  The oldest Valentine’s cards were, naturally, all hand-made; the oldest one in possession, dated 1750, was in the Hull Museum as of the late 1940s.  Many such Valentine’s cards and letters were not kept as they were not worth the keeping to those who received them.  As the custom progressed, however, a clever marketing scheme was bound to spring up.  In the 19th century the commercial Valentine began life in the form of stationery (envelopes were unknown until after the 1840s), the stationery itself folded and serving as the envelope.  Still, such a ready-made Valentine was seen as a proof of failure, as people prided themselves in poems and compositions… they were labours of love, not a quickly-posted printed monstrosity.  So, new strategy:  Some Valentines were produced half-finished to allow the personal touch to be added in, and they were provided with a small parcel of add-ons (lace, hearts, trimmings, etc.) to that end.  In the end, it was hard for the individual to compete with a designer employing skilful artists, and the homemade Valentine vanished.

By 1880 the British post had to employ an additional 300-400 workers on 13 February to deal with the 1.5 million Valentines. (This statistic comes from the Post Office Magazine from February 1937.)  The manufactured cards continued to become more elaborate, embossed, lithographed, laced with studs, birds, baskets, ribbons and Cupids with colourful petals, trellis-work and even perfume.  But as with all mass-produced items, art decays when it becomes profitable; mass-production caused a huge drop in popularity.  In the mid-1930s a new medium was explored, the Valentine Telegram, which continued up until WW2.

My earliest memory of Valentine’s Day was in grade school; we each constructed and decorated a “letter box” and taped it to our school lockers; every day was like Christmas for that week, wondering who we’d gotten anonymous cards from!  Another Valentine memory is from college, when I dated someone who was studying Chinese to become a missionary; on that February morning I went to my car to go to work and found a long stemmed rose on the windshield with a card… in Chinese.  I still have the card somewhere, as a book mark, and it still makes me smile.  We both went on with our lives in different directions, but I still consider him a friend.

So the next time you chose a Valentine’s Card, ponder a moment.  Perhaps the sentiment would be better represented by a good, old-fashioned handmade card instead… that personal touch that will still speak volumes in years to come.

What are some of your own Valentine’s memories?

(For more fascinating histories of holidays and celebrations, check out The English Festivals, by Laurence Whistler.)

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