Tag Archive | history

No, really. It literally is a cookbook.

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One of the results of the English Civil War was the rise of cookbooks as a distinct genre. It makes sense if you think about it. You had former servants out of work, one-time nobles stuck in exile and/or broke, and a public nostalgic and eager to see how those nobles lived. As this was an era where “physick” and alchemy weren’t too far apart from each other you’d have a lot of cross over between the two: a recipe for bacon and eggs a few pages away from a recipe for a healing draught. Here’s a few interesting characters that worked early on in writing cookbooks.

(c) Valence House Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationLady Ann Fanshawe: Memoirist. Possible first English language recorder of a recipe for ice cream. Lady Fanshawe wrote her memoir for private circulation as a guide to her son on how to live a proper life and do honor to her late husband and the son’s father. But she also kept a book of receipts and recipes. Amid the food recipes, Lady Fanshawe’s book had recipes for cooking up common remedies to various ailments and tidbits of herblore. It was likely common practice at the time for a noblewoman to pass down such a book full of common wisdom, recipes, and remedies to a daughter upon the occasion of her marriage.

kenelm_digby_1603-1665_anonymous_painterSir Kenelm Digby*: English Catholic noble, privateer, amateur scientist, and alchemist, Sir Kenelm Digby had a bit of it all going for him. He seemed like a bit of kook too, but that’s okay. He was the guy who suggested we all eat bacon and eggs for breakfast with the “juyce of an Orange”, and suggesting that when cooking venison it should be so well cooked that it can be carved from the bone with a spoon. Sir Digby spent years roaming Europe traveling from court to court and his book reflects that. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened was published after his death and has over a hundred recipes for mead.

451px-hannah_woolleyHannah Wolley: Her mother and sisters were skilled at “physick and chiurgy”, and she learned the trade from them. Her husband was a school teacher, and she herself was a teacher. Her books weren’t simply about cooking, but household management. And like Lady Fanshawe’s book, Wolley’s featured remedies for ailments amid all the recipes. Yet unlike the other two she wasn’t of the nobility, but common (if upper class) birth. Hannah’s likely the first person to make a living writing cookbooks in the English language.

A couple of other things: This article on cookbooks as literature is kind of neat. Especially as it delves into the cookbooks of Dumas who wrote like the Anthony Bourdain of his time.

Also since I’m talking cookbooks I have to mention this youtube series on 18th century cooking that I’m completely hooked on from J. Townsend and Son. I recommend the switchel!

* Not to be confused with Sir Digby Chicken Caesar.

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The Thirty Years War

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I’m reading CV Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War. I’m near the start of year three of the war. This is what has happened so far:

Bohemia needed a king but couldn’t decide on one because electoral college/religion. It didn’t help that the two potential kings were more or less identical taciturn, easily manipulated young inbred aristocrats with the names Fred and Ferdinand. No one cared who sat on the throne except some asshole Catholics and some asshole Protestants. What mattered was that Bohemia was in Germany, and Germany was the highway between North Europe and South Europe.

If you wanted to sell British linens in Venice and North Africa, you marched them through Germany and Germans made a lot of money being a superhighway full of beer and inns. So many people wanted to control Germany that it was overseen by something like 2000 minor princes, families, and church holdings.  And not just because of beers and inns and linens and markets but to control the road so when the time came, and everyone knew it was coming,  and the shit finally hit the fan in Europe, that Austro-Spanish Superpower couldn’t march their soldiers out of Italy (breeding place of strapping young lads with low job prospects and mercenary captains eager to bulk up their CVs) along the German superhighway to Northern Europe where someone else’s Sister’s Father-in-law-Uncle-Cousin has his kingdom and he’s rich/also happens to be their cousin!

Everyone expects the fan shit hit to happen in a few years when a treaty runs out in Flanders, but surprise surprise a bunch of asshole Catholics got thrown out a window in Prague by a bunch of asshole Protestants because they had an electoral college/religious freedom (which totally only applied to Protestants and Catholics anyways*).

So two years ahead of schedule it’s time for proxy war in Germany, and Fred or Ferdinand is like Hey Uncle/Cousin/Father-in-Law can you help me out? And that Uncle-Cousin-Father-in-Law is like okay, and his enemies (the Uncle-Cousin-Father-in-law’s) are like No Fucking Way you Austro-Spanish asshole, you ain’t getting anywhere near that sweet German Superhighway. And they go to Not-Fred nor-Ferdinand and are like, let me help you out, because no way that asshole gets access to that superhighway religious freedom!

One faction sends an army, the other faction goes to Italy and buys an army, and march march march, let’s have a fight. And if we can’t have a fight let’s just burn and loot shit. And at some point the Hungarians are like Man – we need to get in on all that looting, so here’s an army because Sister-Uncle-Brother-in-law-Treaty  and Fred Ferdinand is like “Gee, thanks?” as his own kingdom is looted by his own allies.

And it’s more marching, more looting, and more fighting and then there’s a big fight outside Prague on a white mountain and the rebellious Bohemian side (Fred’s) loses, and Ferdinand’s like that’s all sorted out – by which I mean he has a bunch of protestants executed and their heads put on spikes and cuts up their paper telling them they have religious freedom, and he felt really awful doing it because he’s really just a shy, misunderstood privileged bro aristocrat manipulated by everyone around him but he totally went to confession before signing the death warrants so it’s all good.

Meanwhile Fred’s run off to the King of Sweden and is like Wah wah, my kingdom, and right behind Fred is this Manfred Max mercenary captain character like Wah wah where’s my f—ing money. And Fred’s like I ain’t got it, and the King of Sweden is like Let me help you because German superhighway RELIGIOUS FREEDOM!, and Manfred Max mercenary captain is like, I’ll stick with you guys because war=money and maybe this time I’ll f—ing make some.**

And that brings us to the end of year two. Not confusing at all, right?

* The book makes no reference to what Germany’s Jewish community thought about all this high-falutin religious freedom talk. It’s accepted as a given that religious freedom was meant only to mean Calvinists and Jesuits shouldn’t be assholes to Lutherans and old fashioned folk Catholics. But the book’s not a series of cross-sections like Purkiss’s The English Civil War. It’s much more straightforward and chronological. From a folklore prospective this would be the eras of the the European witch-hunts, the Golem of Prague, the events depicted in Simplicus Simplicissimus, and the fairy tales the Grimms and Von Schwonwerth would write down two centuries later. Wanting to know how all that mixed into this brew of events is likely another book entirely.

** All every mercenary captain wanted to do was make enough money to retire to some nice quiet out of the way principality somewhere – and by that I don’t mean as like some dowdy bourgeois merchant, but as The Prince of the place. These guys seem like they come right out of a Jim Thompson crime novel like The Getaway. “Just one more war, baby, then I promise I’ll retire to that valley outside Genoa.”

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The Black Book AKA Reign of Terror

french-revolution-6I’m on a bit of a French Revolution kick, mainly because I’m reading that Tom Reiss biography of Alex Dumas, French revolutionary era general, ex-slave, hero, and dad to the novelist, Alex Dumas. It’s proving to be a pretty great read.

One thing that surprises me is the fact that no one’s ever done a Cthulhu mythos, French Revolution mash-up. So much of it seems like it would fit together: secret societies (the Jacobin clubs), the Cult of the Supreme Being, the master/pupil relationship between Saint-Just* and Robespierre. I could see it working and am surprised no one’s done it.

One thing I did find is this old costume drama from the 1940s called The Black Book. It’s one of those pictures where time and space can be conquered simply by showing a single silhouetted rider cross the screen while the music score swells. “… and he made full speed for Strassburg.”

What’s cool about it is that it’s directed by Anthony Mann. Mann started as a b-movie director, specializing in Film Noir and went on to make westerns and epics. The Black Book is made right in the middle of his Noir phase, so it plays out less like an epic of the revolution and more like The Maltese Falcon. Robespierre hires a special operative to find his missing black book. Several other factions want the book. There’s a femme fatale, a shady cop adept at picking locks, and double crosses. Yeah, it all descends into mad coach rides and women-in-peril, but at seventy-five minutes I won’t complain.

You can watch it at the Internet Archive or Youtube.

* According to wikipedia, Saint-Just wrote an epic poem in the style of Orlando Furioso, except with dollops of the Marquis de Sade heaped in. Yet another reason he’s perfect as a Lovecraftian anti-hero.