What’s In a Name?

TEA … what a strange name for a beverage.  A beverage which originated in China over 5,000 years ago.  A beverage which comes from infusing the leaves of a specific plant into hot water.  A beverage which has been drunk and enjoyed around the world for centuries.  Where did this simple name come from?

The word for “tea” can be quite different in many languages.  In China, the word for tea is “cha”.  In India and other Far East countries, the word for tea is very similar … “chai”.  In Great Britain and parts of Europe, however, the word for this amber-colored liquor is the word we in the U.S. use … “tea”.   How is it that this, the most popular beverage in the world, can have two completely different names?

Legend tells us that more than 5,000 years ago, the Chinese emperor, Shen Nung, was sitting under a tree in his garden boiling water when the wind picked up and leaves from the tree drifted down into his pot.  Intrigued by the fragrant aroma and beauty of the golden liquid, he drank the infusion and enjoyed it.  Tea has played a vital role in the Chinese culture ever since.

The Chinese character for tea is  .   Written from top to bottom, this calligraphic character is quite beautiful.  The top strokes, which I’ve always thought were shaped like a house, really represents “grass” or a “plant”.  Although Mandarin is the most common language in China, there are over 300 different languages and dialects.  In Mandarin Chinese this “house-shaped” character is pronounced “cha”.  In Min Chinese, however, this very same character is pronounced “te”.
Why is this important?  Because China is a very large country, with different languages spoken in different regions, and depending upon the port from which the tea was shipped, is how this beverage got its name.

China had two primary shipping locations:  Guangzhou (Canton) to the North, and Xiamen in Fujian Province, to the South.  If the tea leaves were exported from the northern route, they went overland, and they were referred to by their Mandarin name, “cha”.  If the very same leaves were exported from the southern route, they went by sea and were referred to by their Min name, “te”.

The northern route, known as the Tea-Horse Road, traveled over 6000 rugged miles through Tibet and on to India, eventually linking up with the infamous Silk Road.  Ultimately this route became vital for, not only trade, but for the sharing of information, religion, and the arts.  The Silk Road crossed into the Middle East, where some goods, including tea … “cha” … were loaded onto ships destined for Mediterranean ports.  With the introduction of the faster and more efficient Clipper ships in 1840, however, the use of this road lessened.

The southern trade route, which was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, actually introduced England to tea.  This dangerous and long voyage traveled from China through Java to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope up the coast of Africa to Europe.  It was these very same Portuguese and Dutch traders who first imported tea … “te” … into Europe.  Regular shipments of “te” had begun reaching England by 1610.  And with the use of Clipper ships, traveling at over 250 miles a day, the race was on.

So, if you lived along the Northern route and into the Middle East, your beverage of choice was “cha” taken from the Mandarin name.  If you lived along the Southern route and into Europe, your beverage of choice was “te” taken from the Min name.  But regardless of where you live and whether you refer to this wonderful elixir as  thé in Paris …or in Rome … chay in Moscow … or chai in Nairobi, just know that you are enjoying the oldest and most popular beverage in the world.

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References:  Wikipedia, History of Tea, Trade Routes, Siam teas, Mental Floss
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GINGERBREAD

Who thinks of “gingerbread” in April?  In America, “gingerbread” doesn’t seem to enter our thinking until the holidays start approaching.  And even then, we tend to think of gingerbread only in the form of gingerbread men cookies and gingerbread houses.  In the U.K. and throughout Europe, however, gingerbread is available, purchased, baked and enjoyed year round.  This may be of no interest to anyone, but I find it fascinating.

Illustration depicting Christopher Columbus’s fleet departing from Spain in 1492.

We’re all familiar with ginger, even if its only in the dried, powdered form.  But did you know the ginger plant, from which we use the root, was discovered in the Indonesian islands, along with many similar plants, as early as 2000 B.C.  Knowing its medicinal benefits even then, ginger was already being cultivated by the indigenous people.  Along with turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon and cassia, ginger was among the first spices to be transported from the Far East over land and by sea to the Middle East and Europe.

From burning the spices in religious ceremonies, to creating ointments and potions to ward off the plague, as well as to hide putrid household smells and make unpalatable food edible, spices were in high demand.  We all know Christopher Columbus was trying to find a shorter route to the spice islands when he ‘bumped’ into this land mass.  The trade routes were so coveted, battles were fought over them and spice merchants became extremely wealthy and powerful.  Ginger was so expensive n the Middle Ages, one pound was the same price as one sheep.  But once the trade routes became established during the 15th and 16th centuries, prices stabilized … and by the 17th century, the Spanish were able to cultivate ginger and were growing it in the West Indies, making it affordable for all.

So, now that we know where ginger came from, let’s find out where “gingerbread” came from and why it’s so important in European cuisine . . .

I’ve read that the first known recipe for ‘gingerbrede’ came from Greece in 2400 BC.  Really?  How do they know that?  I do know, however, that food historians have traced ginger as a seasoning since antiquity.  From my research,  it seems an Archbishop from Armenia, in the 1st century, is credited with serving his guests a cake made of spices.  By the tenth century, its proven that Chinese recipes for ‘spice breads’ were developed using ginger, and by the 13th century European nuns in monasteries were known to be baking ‘gingerbredes’ to ease indigestion.  As spices, and in particular ginger, made their way throughout Northern and Western Europe, these breads baked in monasteries became so popular professional bakers began to make them.  The ingredients, of course, were a bit different from what we would expect.  Ground almonds, breadcrumbs, rosewater, sugar and ginger were mixed together and baked.  It wasn’t until the 16th century when eggs and flour were added.

Did you know Queen Elizabeth I is credited with creating the first “gingerbread man”?  Known for her outlandish royal dinners, Queen Elizabeth employed a ‘Royal gingerbread baker’.  Among her array of fancy desserts were not only birds, fruits, and castles shaped out of marzipan, but also of gingerbread. The first documented gingerbread-shaped biscuit actually came from the court of Queen Elizabeth when she commissioned figures to be made in the likeness of some of her important guests.  They were the hit of the court and soon these biscuits made their way into the bakeries.

Still not an inexpensive treat, gingerbread became widely popular at Medieval fairs all over Europe.  They were sold not only as delicious snacks, but as souvenirs and good luck charms.  Gingerbread became so popular, cities in France and England began holding “gingerbread fairs” and even formed Gingerbread Guilds, with strict baking guidelines and competitions.   Nuremberg, Germany was actually recognized as the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” and the quality of their gingerbread was so high that it was even used as currency for paying city taxes.  The oldest recorded gingerbread recipe, dating back to the 16th century, is on display in the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg.

Elaborately decorated gingerbread became so synonymous with all things fancy and elegant that the Guilds began hiring master bakers to create works of art from gingerbread.  Bakers began carving wooden boards to create elaborately designed molds to shape individual images.  The shapes included not only flowers, birds, and animals, but even people.  They were in such demand, kings and queens, lords and ladies, knights and bishops wanted their images captured in “gingerbread”.  Should a young woman want to improve her chances of attracting a husband, she would have a “gingerbread man” made for her in the likeness of her gentleman’s image.  The hope was that if she could get him to eat the spicy delicacy, he would then fall in love with her.  Decorated gingerbread was given as a wedding gift, or to celebrate a birth or special occasion.

Gingerbread became such a specialized and highly prized item, only professional ‘gingerbread’ bakers were allowed to make it, unless, of course, it was a holiday such as Christmas or Easter, then anyone would be given permission.  The gingerbread house, as we all know and love, was created in Germany to replicate Hansel and Gretel’s foray into the woods.  Can we say Brothers Grimm?  This tradition of creating gingerbread houses at Christmastime is as strong today as it was 300 years ago.

In England, the small town of Market Drayton has been making gingerbread since the 1640s, and by 1793 had four gingerbread bakeries.  The town is so proud of its gingerbread heritage its displayed on their welcome sign.

In many European countries, gingerbread is still considered an art form, and the antique mold collections are on display in many museums.  According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the largest gingerbread man was made in Norway in November 2009 and weighed 1,435 lbs. And the largest gingerbread house was made in Texas, November 2013 by the Traditions Club – 60 ft. long, 42 ft. wide and 10 ft. tall – all to raise money for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Whether you enjoy your gingerbread soft and chewy, as a crispy biscuit, or as a dense cake sweetened with molasses or honey, this tummy-warming treat is hard to resist.  Now that I’ve uncovered these little known facts about gingerbread, I think I better understand why its so popular in Europe . . . from Norway to Switzerland, Poland to Germany, Bulgaria to England,  gingerbread is available, loved, and eaten year round, and not just at Christmastime.

 

As Shakespeare said, “An I had but one penny in the world,
thou should’st have it to buy ginger-bread
…”

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References:  Britannica, Unesco, Vegetable Facts, Wikipedia, Confectionary Chalet, BBC,
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THE PEARLIES

Have you ever visited London and come across a handful of colorful characters dressed head-to-toe in black outfits completely ‘blinged’ out with mother-of-pearl buttons?  Probably in a parade or at a charity event?  Well, if you haven’t, then you’ve missed a wonderful treat … and tradition.

Pearlies began in London in the early 1800s as ordinary “costermongers” or street vendors.  The name “costermonger” comes from “costard” for apple and “monger” meaning seller.  Often seen as vagrants and hounded by the police, these costermongers roamed the streets selling fruits and vegetables.  Times were difficult and money hard to come by, but costers were always willing and eager to help each other out.  Looked down upon by society and often bullied, they organized themselves into neighborhood groups for safety and elected Kings to lead them.

It was hard for the ‘costers’ not to admire the wealthy West Enders, whose style and panache were clearly evident as they paraded about London.  One of the very fashionable items was mother-of-pearl buttons.  So in demand were these accessories, factories couldn’t keep up with production.  Costers, in an attempt to boost their sales by calling attention to themselves, began to sew lines of buttons up the side seams of their trousers.  Not the expensive mother-of-pearl buttons, of course, but whatever buttons they could find.  This also provided a way for them to identify which neighborhood group they belonged to.

Henry Croft, orphaned at a very young age, became a street sweeper at age 13.  Croft was fascinated by the costermongers and by their charitable lifestyle.  He was also fascinated with their concept of adorning clothing with attention-getting buttons.  Although there are many stories about how Croft came about obtaining his first set of mother-of-pearl buttons, the truth has been lost in time.  What we do know is that in 1880, Croft with his good friend, George Dole, started sewing hundreds of mother-of-pearl buttons on a suit.

George Dole with his daughter, Annie. Early 1900s.

Croft realized that by wearing these attention-getting ‘blinged’ out clothes, he might be able to raise money for the orphanage in which he grew up.  From that first successful event, Croft then raised money for the London Temperance Hospital, and so began his path as a fund raiser.

Having created one suit, though, was not enough for Henry.  He actually ended up creating seven suits, each one very distinctive from the others.  In addition to the suits, Henry adorned a range of hats, belts, waist coats, ties, and even an overcoat, not only for himself, but for others.  One of his suits was actually discovered in 1974 stowed away in the attic of a home in Essex.  It is now part of a private collection.

Henry remained in the employ of the city for most of his life, as a street sweeper and then rat catcher (a very in-demand job during Victorian times).  As husband to Lily Newton for 40 years, and father of 8 children, Henry became a successful and beloved member of the community, who never forgot his early struggles.

Described as the “Pearlie King of Somers Town“, Croft became such a local hero, he was written about and photographed in his famous suit consisting of 4900 buttons by STRAND MAGAZINE.  This notoriety drew such attention that over the next ten years, all of London’s neighborhoods had established  Pearlie families, numbering in the hundreds.  Deemed the undisputed Pearly King, Croft continued raising thousands of pounds each year by appearing at various charity and social events until his death in 1930.

Henry Croft (1861–1930)

His funeral procession, comprised of Irish bagpipers, 400 Pearlie Kings, Queens and family members, as well as representatives from Croft’s charities and organizations, was nearly a half mile long.  Commissioned by several of his favorite charities, in 1931 a marble statue of Croft was erected.  The statue depicts Croft proudly posing with top hat and cane in a coat of more than 30,000 buttons, and the legend ‘the original Pearly King’.

The tradition of the Pearly King and Queen continues today.  Each Pearlie is responsible for the design and the sewing of their own suit.  Each suit must have its  own unique pattern which should be personal to them.  Some fairly common symbols include doves for peace, hearts symbolizing love or charity, wheels for the circle of life, and playing cards which symbolizes that life is a gamble.  If the Pearlie should have a title, it should also be spelled out in buttons on their backs.  To be a Pearlie you must also deal with the fact that a fully finished suit can weigh up to 50 lbs.


Croft’s friend, George Dole, also went on to become a Pearlie King and his family, to this day, continues his charitable work, as do Henry’s family.  Since their beginning, Pearlies have organized into many different associations, each raising money for their specific charities.  Although the  numbers today are not as great as they were 100 years ago, the Pearlie Kings, Queens and their families continue to carry on the work of their ancestors spreading goodwill with cockney spirit and cheer, and you just might come across them on your next visit to London.

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References:  Oxford Dictionary, Wikipedia, Pearlies, Fashion Fix, Oddity Central, Express UK
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JAFFA CAKES

With this world wide global marketplace in which we now live, it seems we have available anything we want from anywhere at anytime.  Teas from China … cotton sheets from Egypt … woolen scarves from Scotland … wild salmon from Alaska … it’s all there in the stores.  But, when you want some Jaffa Cakes, where can you find them?  I realize, of course, most everything you can think of is available through Amazon (at an exorbitant price, I might add), but we were hoping to find these inexpensive and delectable little nuggets of deliciousness in the International food aisle from at least one of the big supermarket chains, and not have to wait for the delivery man to walk down the driveway in two or three days. 

For those of you who don’t know what a Jaffa Cake is, it’s a small not overly sweet, cake-like cookie with an orange-flavored gelatinous disc in the center, topped with dark chocolate.  They’re inexpensive, sold in packages and are available everywhere in the U.K., from supermarkets to convenience stores, and loved by everyone.  And, yes, they were a baking challenge on one of the earlier Great British Bake Off programs.

Well, if I can’t buy them, then here’s another baking challenge – Jaffa Cakes.  As always I begin by doing a little online research.  It astonishes me that you can see the exact same recipe on a dozen different ‘home baker’s’ sites.  Do they just copy and paste from one to another?

From the web, I printed a couple of recipes and then took out my British cookbooks.  Now which recipe to try?  The first recipe was Mary Berry‘s, which was confusing because it said to ‘break the jelly into pieces’.  Wasn’t sure what that meant.  Next was Paul Hollywood‘s recipe which also called for me to ‘break the jelly into cubes’.  Apparently, this is an ingredient we either don’t have here in the U.S., or we call it something else.  I decided to make my own orange filling with gelatin, orange juice and sugar.  It didn’t really work.  Okay then, why not use orange flavored JELL-O?  Which I did and it worked perfectly.  After many tries and fails, converting grams to cups, and wondering why all British recipes call for “free range” eggs, here’s my recipe.  I hope you like it!!

JAFFA CAKES 
Bake at 350°.  Makes 12 – 2″ cookies.  Equipment needed:  muffin tin and/or whoopie pie tin

2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 3 oz. package orange-flavored JELL-O
1/3 cup boiling water
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
butter for greasing tins

Make the filling first by dissolving a packet of orange-flavored gelatin into 1/3 cup of boiling water.  Spray or grease a 12 count muffin tin.  Into the bottom of each cup put a tablespoon of the gelatin.  Put the tin into the refrigerator for the gelatin to set.  When the gelatin has set completely, remove each disc from the muffin tin and place on a dish.  Place the dish back into the refrigerator until its time to assemble.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for at least 5 minutes until delicate, pale and frothy.   Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the eggs.  Put 2 tablespoons of batter into the bottom of each of the greased muffin cups and bake at 350° for 7 to 8  minutes or until pale but baked through.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Then remove each cake/cookie and let them cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, over a bowl of very hot water, melt the chocolate chips, stirring as necessary until smooth and shiny.  Let cool a bit.

To assemble:  take a cake/cookie and place an orange disc on top and quickly place a spoonful of the chocolate on top of the disc.  Using the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate, sealing in the orange wafer.  Place the cookie back onto the rack.  When they are all assembled, using the tines of a fork, gently make a criss-cross pattern on each of them*.

They may not be as pretty as Mary Berry’s Jaffa Cakes, but they taste pretty darn good.  Tasty little cakes with an orange filling and chocolate frosting.  If you wanted to  make these ahead, I’m sure they’d probably last a few days, but definitely not in our house!

*As you can see, I tried … but failed miserably at this.
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CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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CHATELAINES

“Chatelaines” … what a delicate, intriguing word.  If you don’t know what they are, let your mind wander a bit and come up with your own definition.  Could they be a buttery, flaky French pastry you’ve never heard of?  Or perhaps, a little embroidered purse into which you’d put your loose change?  Maybe, they refer to a member of a European family, perhaps third or fourth cousin, who ran off with the chambermaid.  If you do know what a “Chatelaine” is, you are better informed than I.  I had no idea.  But these practical items were quite popular for centuries, and are still around today.

A Chatelaine is nothing more than a “key chain” … a key chain most often worn by women heads of households, but also some men, from early Roman times through to the 19th century.  During this period, women’s clothing did not have pockets, and women did not carry handbags.  Unthinkable, I know.  So where did women (and some men) keep the keys to the larder or the tea chest?  What about those small embroidery scissors or their watch?  Not to mention their snuff box or perfume vial.  This very practical accessory, the Chatelaine, would hold all of these and other essential items, which a head of house, a nanny, or nurse might need at a moment’s notice.

Derived from the French word for “Keeper of the Castle” or “Mistress of the Chateau”, the Chatelaine would be affixed by a hook to a leather belt, cord or chain worn around the waist.  This hook would then have a series of smaller hooks or chains hanging from it, each holding one of these essential tools.  Not only were these essentials vital to the daily household chores, it was a status symbol letting others know this was a woman “in charge” and took her domestic responsibilities seriously.

Mrs. Hughes, wearing a Chatelaine, had a very prestigious and respected position as head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.

One of the most important uses of a Chatelaine was to hold a watch.  With no pockets and wristwatches were not as yet invented, the need to have a watch handy was vitally important, especially if you were overseeing the running of a manor house.

Victorian Antique Chatelaine

As with most items, Chatelaines eventually became a symbol of a person’s wealth.  A wealthy person might wear a very decorative and ornate Chatelaine made from precious metals and adorned with precious and semi-precious stones.  As handbags became the fashion, the Chatelaine shrank in appearance and functionality, but was still a popular ornamental piece.  Men began wearing them from their waistcoat to carry their watch.  Women began wearing them more as a decorative accessory around their neck and even around their wrist.  Perhaps this was the origin of what we now know as a “charm bracelet”.

Punch, a very influential 19th century British weekly magazine, notorious for their  sophisticated humor and satire (and is known for creating the “cartoon”), came up with an interesting use of the Chatelaine to aid mothers of young children

As I mentioned above, Chatelaines are actually still very popular. Today’s Chatelaine may look a little different and some may be purely decorative, but not all.  How many of us wear a Lanyard to hold our eyeglasses or company badge?  This very practical accessory, the Lanyard, is also a modern day form of a Chatelaine.

You can find modern day replicas of the classic Chatelaine on Etsy or EBay, as well as department stores.   But they are not only found on the runway and in fashion magazines, they are also quite popular as a ‘punk rock’ accessory in the form of a chain belt worn by both men and women, to hold wallets.  Worn primarily with jeans, but they can be worn with just about any outfit.  So, the name may have changed, but I believe the practicality of being able to have handy what you need, at a moment’s notice, will never loose its appeal, and if it can be decorative too, why not?

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References: Millys Marvels, Mental Floss, Louis Dell’ Olio, Wikipedia,
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OATMEAL SCONES

To keep my sanity during these stressful times, my baking marathon continues.  For me, baking is not only relaxing, it gives me something to focus on, fuels my creativity, as well as provides a really yummy end product (well, most of the time).  Even if it doesn’t look good, most bakes taste good and that’s really all that matters.

I found this recipe (originally from the Quaker Oats company) as I was cleaning out old cookbooks.  It looked quick and easy, perfect for today’s rainy day … and perfect to go along with a hot steamy cuppa and a good book.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

OATMEAL SCONES
Bake at 425° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Makes 8 to 10 scones (or more, depending upon the size)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal (any type will do)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping – optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze 
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

First, line up all your ingredients.  Don’t be one of those bakers who goes looking for things as you go along.  If you have everything in front of you, you’re less apt to make a mistake and forget something.  Then, preheat your oven and prepare your pan.  Most ovens take 20 minutes or more to heat up thoroughly.  A $5.00 oven thermometer is a great investment and saves a lot of baking disasters.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these, but I did use my food processor.  Nothing is quicker than a food processor … as long as you know how and when to use it.  The “pulse” button is all you need for these!

In a large bowl (or food processor) add the dry ingredients.  Mix well or pulse two or three times.  Cut the icy cold butter into cubes and add it to the dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs.  Again, if using a food processor, PULSE 10 or 12 times … no more!

In a small bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla.  Then add this wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir it in with a fork or PULSE a few times just to combine everything.

Turn the mixture out onto a floured board.  Knead a few times to bring it together.  Do not overwork the dough or your scones will be tough and won’t rise properly.

Form the dough into a round and with a rolling pin, gently roll until you have about 3/4″ thickness.  Cut the dough into triangles (or you can use a cutter to cut out shapes).  Place the triangles onto a parchment lined baking tray.

In another small bowl, mix the chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the scones, pressing down lightly to fix them onto the scones.  This is completely optional.

Bake the scones in a preheated 425° oven for 25-30 minutes (if smaller scones are made, you may need to reduce the baking time.  When they have baked through and are browned, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Combine the powdered sugar and orange juice and just drizzle over the top of the scones.  Then be prepared to watch them disappear.

Be sure to put the kettle on and enjoy this easy-to-make, delicious treat …
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CORNED BEEF and CABBAGE?

How did corned beef and cabbage become associated with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day?  It just seems strange to me … especially considering  you’ll be hard pressed to find corned beef in Ireland.  Cabbage?  No problem.  It’s plentiful and prevalent in many dishes … along with potatoes, turnips, carrots.  Colcannon (cabbage and potatoes) being the most popular cabbage dish.  I think the dish that comes closest in Ireland to what we call Corned Beef and Cabbage is Cabbage and Bacon.

But don’t get confused.  Bacon in the U.K. is slightly different from bacon here in the U.S., we get our ‘bacon’ from the belly of the pig and it’s almost always smoked.  Most of us like our bacon cooked til crisp.  In the U.K., bacon comes from the back of the pig and usually not smoked … and definitely not fried til crisp.  U.S. bacon is available in the U.K., but it’s referred to as ‘streaky bacon’ (probably because of the streaky layers of fat).  We, on the other hand, generally refer to U.K. bacon as Canadian bacon (the fat is on the outside), not that it is, of course.  Have I confused you?

Canadian bacon left, U.S. bacon top, U.K. bacon bottom

Why am I trying to explain the difference in bacon?  Because Cabbage and Bacon is a heartier dish than we imagine, more like Cabbage and Ham, and is definitely old fashioned ‘comfort’ food in Ireland.  In fact, you’re more likely to use a ‘joint’ of ham when making Cabbage and Bacon.  But what isn’t ‘comfort’ food in Ireland is Corned Beef and Cabbage.  In fact, Corned Beef and Cabbage doesn’t even exist in Ireland.  Why then is it so endemic to celebrating St. Paddy’s Day here in the States?

Let’s start at the beginning.  Although the British had been ruling Ireland since the takeover in the 12th century, Brits did not live there, preferring to be absentee landowners.  In Ireland, cattle were beasts of burden and unless they were old and not able to plow the fields, or the cows to produce milk, they were not slaughtered.  Cattle was a sign of wealth and the only time one might be slaughtered was if there was a festival or celebration.  And, even then, it was only the wealthy English landowners who could afford to part with this valuable beast of burden.  Pigs were, and still are, the most prevalent animal raised to be eaten.

The English, however, were ‘beef eaters’ (the tag name given to the Queen’s guards).  In fact, Englishman, Robert Bakewell is credited with creating ‘selective breeding’ and was the first person to breed cattle for the beef industry, increasing their size and quality of meat.  Eventually the beef industry in Ireland grew and tens of thousands of cattle were being transported from the English-owned cattle farms in Ireland to England; but the government (as government’s always do) became involved and prohibited the transportation of live animals.  Now what to do?  Ireland had an abundance of salt and the process of salting to preserve food goes back throughout history.  Thus began the slaughtering of cattle and salting of the beef to preserve it.  The size of the salt crystals used to preserve the meat were enormous, as large as corn kernels some said … and so the name for this very salty, preserved meat soon became referred to as “corned” beef.

Pastures near Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Shaylyn Esposito

Irish ‘corned beef‘ was relatively inexpensive and, because of its ability to be stored for long periods of time, became in demand around Europe.  Although this was a huge export product for Ireland, the Irish couldn’t afford to buy or eat it.  It was the English who owned and controlled the industry.  Sadly, the Irish, who were producing this valuable export product could, at best, only afford potatoes and a bit of pork.

Detailed map showing where the Irish settled in the U.S. 1890 census.

Now fast forward to the heartbreaking potato famine which decimated Ireland beginning in 1845 and lasted seven long years.  It is estimated that well over a million Irish families escaped to America to avoid starvation.  Most landed at Ellis Island in New York City and, for lack of funds to move on, were forced to settle in the run-down tenement areas along the waterfront and in the Jewish neighborhoods.

The Jews were also new immigrants to America and were living in these same run-down, tenement areas.  The two groups formed a sort of kinship.  Both groups were discriminated against, forced from their homelands, penniless and starting their lives over.  As they started to settle in and progress financially, businesses began opening up, jobs were had and, finally, there was money for food.  The Irish began purchasing their meats from Kosher butcher shops, which sold a version of “corned beef”, much different from what they once produced.  But, it was delicious and they grew to love it.  All of which brings us back to today and Corned Beef and Cabbage!The cabbage, potatoes, turnips and carrots are traditional, but the Jewish-style brisket is definitely American born.  To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Americans today (and those wanting to be Irish) will pin a shamrock on their lapel, order a green beer and enjoy Corned Beef and Cabbage.  From high-end, fine dining restaurants to local mom and pop diners, on kitchen tables and celebrations across the country, we’ll all be tucking in to this homespun dish.  You still, however, won’t see it served in Ireland.

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References:  Wisegeek, Smithsonian, History Place, Irish Central, History, Wikipedia
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ABERFAN

I wished we had known about Aberfan before we traveled through Wales.  We would have visited this little hamlet to pay our respects.  Although the horrific catastrophe took place over 50 years ago, I wonder if that community has ever really healed.  Losing half the town’s population of children, 116, and 28 adults in a matter of moments is something which, I imagine, you can never really ever put behind you.  And, this preventable tragedy actually happened to this tiny Welsh coal-mining village on Friday, October 21, 1966, at 9:15 am.

Coal mining, or “black gold”, played a huge part in the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  Wood was in short supply by the 19th century and coal was needed to fire the blast furnaces for the iron and copper industries.  The dangerous job of mining coal was the center of discontent for most of its workers.  Uprisings against employers were commonplace.  Although the Factory Act and Mines Act were passed, which were meant to prevent women and children under the age of 10 from working underground, they were by and large, ignored.  Accidents, long-term health problems and other catastrophes continued.

Did the coal-mining company knowingly and willfully disregard the maximum amount of unstable waste which could be piled up, on a sloping hill, on top of an underground stream, even though they were warned repeatedly?  We’ll never really know.  The National Coal Board, however, was responsible for maintaining these waste sites which hovered dangerously close to these small towns and, it’s obvious, they didn’t.

The aftermath of the Aberfan disaster. 1966

But all it took was a very rainy season that year.  Local residents noticed that flood waters were actually dripping down from the coal mines.  The situation was dangerous!  Meetings were held between the local representatives and the National Coal Board.  Although the National Coal Board admitted knowing there was a problem, they did nothing.

It was the last day of the school term, and after a night of heavy rains, at 9:15 am on Friday, October 21st, as the children of the Pantglas Junior School were seated at their desks, with their teacher at the helm, about to begin their first lessons, a deafening roar could be heard outside.  It didn’t take but a few moments for this 30′ high avalanche of debris from the mine to wash down the hillside and completely engulf the little school, a row of houses, and a farm.  1.5 million cubic feet of sludge crushed the life out of this community.  A torrent of water then engulfed the sludge caused by the broken water mains.  It all happened so quickly, the children didn’t have time to flee for their lives.  Teachers threw themselves over the children to protect them.  116 children died – ages 7 to 10 … 28 adults – 5 of them teachers … many more injured.

Hundreds of people heard the noise, stopped what they were doing, picked up a shovel and ran to the site.  It took over a week for rescuers to retrieve the bodies of the victims. “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children,” reported the New York Times.  The dead were taken to a makeshift mortuary set up in Bethania Chapel, where many parents had to endure the ordeal of identifying the bodies of their children.

Rescue workers at the site of the Pantglas Junior School.

Inquiries were held and findings resulted in this statement … “our strong and unanimous view is that the Aberfan disaster could and should have been prevented. … the Report which follows tells not of wickedness but of ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications. Ignorance on the part of those charged at all levels with the siting, control and daily management of tips; bungling ineptitude on the part of those who had the duty of supervising and directing them; and failure on the part of those having knowledge of the factors which affect tip safety to communicate that knowledge and to see that it was applied.”

Mourners walk through the center of town. 1966

A mass burial was held on the 25th of October.  The company was never prosecuted, nor any of its staff members.  Instead a paltry offer of £500 was paid to each of the families who lost a loved one.

Today they have moved on.  Well, some of them.  It’s still a very sensitive subject, which some refuse to talk about.  For the longest time, it was never mentioned in school, but now school children are being taught about this horrific tragedy.  Of course, the coal mines have been closed for years … and there now stands a memorial garden where the school once stood.  There’s also a community center setup by one of the childhood survivors, which is an integral place for young families.  The River Taff, once a smelly streak of polluted, black liquid running through the town is now a source of local pride and brimming with life.


The residents of Aberfan don’t want to deny the tragedy, but they want to be remembered for more than just that.  I do know should we get the  opportunity to travel through Wales once again, we will definitely pay our respects to this brave little hamlet.

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References:  Walesonline, Wikipedia, MSN, Vogue, History Extra, Averfan Documentary

Princess Alice of Battenburg

Has anyone else been watching this season’s THE CROWN on Netflix?  I am spellbound by this remarkably well-made, historical drama.  From the stunningly beautiful and lavish set designs to the dramatic vistas and landscapes, the authentically-detailed period costumes, and, of course, the remarkable portrayals of each of the Royal family by such a talented cast, it’s very difficult to not get caught up in every nuance, image and monologue.  Some people may call this nothing more than a glorified soap opera, but it is so believable, so well made, I had to do some fact checking.  Is this historically accurate or has it been infused with ‘artistic license’

Not having any more information about the Royals than most people (supermarket tabloids, banner headlines on search engines), I’ve been intrigued by such a parade of complex individuals who’ve occupied the rooms of the palace and 10 Downing Street at one time or another.  One such person was the recent episode which introduced us to Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg, brilliantly played by Jane Lapotaire.  But a nun?  Living in a down-trodden community in Greece? Looking for charitable donations?  I needed to know more . . .

Victoria “Alice” Elizabeth Julia  Marie was born on February 25, 1885 at the home of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in Windsor Castle to German parents, Prince Louis of Battenburg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.  Alice’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy, and as a result, the family lived in, not only London, but Germany and Malta.  The eldest of four, Alice’s mother was very concerned by Alice’s lack of development.  Alice was slow in learning to speak and had trouble pronouncing words.  Through her aunt’s intervention, Alice was later diagnosed with congenital deafness.  Once diagnosed, Alice quickly learned to lip read and became proficient in English, German, French and Greek.

Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew
(1903)

She was a stunning beauty and grew to be one of the loveliest young women in Royalty.  At the coronation of King Edward VII, Alice met her future husband, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.  On October 6, 1903, she 18 and he 21, this handsome couple were married and moved to Greece where Andrew became a commissioned officer in the Greek army.  The marriage was marred from the beginning.  Little did Alice know of Prince Andrew’s bisexuality or extravagant lifestyle.  Regardless, the pair would go on to have five children, four daughters and one son. The youngest, Philip, born in 1921, six years after their youngest daughter.

As with most young, wealthy princesses, Alice had little or nothing to do but attend social gatherings.  On a trip to Russia in 1908 to attend the wedding of her husband’s niece, Alice became intrigued about plans to create a religious order of nurses.  When Alice returned to Greece, she found the country in political turmoil.  The turmoil escalated into war and the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912.  Alice quickly threw herself into helping the wounded soldiers by organizing field hospitals.  During this time Prince Andrew’s father was assassinated by a Greek anarchist so the family was forced to flee in exile to Switzerland.

Alice with her first two children, Margarita and Theodora, c. 1910

Just a short two years later saw the outbreak of WWI which caused horrific tragedy to Alice’s family back in Germany, most of whom were murdered.  The family had to give up all of their privileges, positions and titles, as well as their name.  From “Battenberg”, they were now known as “Mountbatten”.  With the end of WWI and the fall of the German empire, the Mountbattens returned to Greece, but once again war broke out in Greece only two years later and Prince Andrew, who was commander of the Military, was banished from the country.  This time the family fled to Paris.

After all this turmoil, tragedy and disruption in their lives, it’s no wonder that Alice turned to religion.  She converted to the Greek Orthodox faith.  Her philandering husband didn’t help Alice’s now fragile state of mind.  With all she had been through, Alice began thinking she had special healing powers and was receiving messages from God.  The couple became estranged. Now diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Alice, aged 45, was forced to move into a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she lived for two years.

Alice tried many times, unsuccessfully, to escape from the sanatorium.  Under the care of many psychiatrists, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, Alice was forced to undergo invasive treatments to “cure her of frustrated sexual desires” which was Freud’s diagnosis.  Dr. Freud concluded that Alice was suffering from unsatisfied sexual frustration.  Her son, Philip, was just nine years old when his mother was taken from him.  Prince Andrew had no desire to raise his son.  He, in fact, ran away with a mistress to the French Riviera.  Young Philip was raised by other members of his family in England, living and being educated in exclusive boarding schools.  During this time, Alice’s daughters all married German prince’s and moved to Germany.  Alice did not attend any of the weddings.

When Alice was finally released from the sanatorium in 1932, she found herself alone.  With nowhere to go, she drifted throughout Germany for years.  The death of her daughter and her daughter’s family in a plane crash in 1937 was the first time in seven years Alice saw her husband.  It was at that time she reunited with the rest of her children and family.  Alice then returned to Greece to continue her charity work.  She wanted her son, Philip, to come with her, but he had a future with the Royal Navy.  When the second World War broke out, Alice’s family was split between Germany and England.  Her son and British family members were on the Allied side, while her daughters and in-laws were on the German side.

In 1941 the Nazis took over Greece.  Although many fled, Alice remained and became an activist, hiding as many Jews as possible in her home, smuggling in medical supplies and doing whatever charity work she could find.  In 1944 when the war was over, Athens was liberated but nothing changed in Greece.  The British were now fighting the Communists for control.  With no food, most people living in squalid conditions, Alice continued putting her life on the line with her dangerous acts of charity.

In 1947 Alice did get the opportunity to leave Greece to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to Princess Elizabeth.  Her visit was short lived, however, because she wanted to return to Greece where she organized a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, modeled after the one she had witnessed in Russia many years before, known as the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.  By June of 1953, Alice was now clothed only in the simple grey habit worn by many Greek Orthodox nuns, which she wore to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The military junta in 1967 forced Prince Philip to send for his mother.  Alice returned to London to live out her years with her son, Prince Philip, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace.  Now quite frail and deaf, but alert and cognizant, she continued to smoke and play canasta.  Then, on December 5, 1969, at the age of 84, with every one of her belongings given away at her request, Princess Alice of Battenberg died.

This remarkable woman endured more than most.  It’s sad to me that so few have even heard her name, never mind her incredible story.  I wonder if any of us could have lived through the terrors of wars, family members killed and murdered, a husband who betrayed her and children who seemingly left her completely on her own.  The British government named Princess Alice “Hero of the Holocaust” for her services during the Jewish Massacre, and in 1994 she was honored by Israel as ‘Righteous among the Nations’.

As fascinating as the episode on The Crown was, it barely scratches the surface of the dramatic life this woman has lived.  Were there some artistic liberties taken for the script?  Yes, of course.  But I don’t think it was necessary.  A remarkable story of a remarkable woman.  Thank you Netflix!

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References:  Crowns, Tiaras, Coronets, Famous People, Wikipedia, CNN, Elle,