Friday, 13 January 2017

History, Herstory with Hilary …

Eight years down and now into the 9th … Blogversary, my Saint’s Day and Birthday collide forever onwards … I am still staggered (and honoured) at how much you appreciate the blog and its contents … so this post is for nostalgia sake …

… and gives a little more detail on my past and about how I got to this ninth year of writing – 825 posts written, but 26 (left-overs from the 2016 non participation) in the A-Z to come … let alone the lingering cobweb of posts behind the scenes.

I’m also doing a Memoir, or Epistolary type course under the auspices of the University of the Third Age … really just how we want to record our lives – mine is pretty varied, as with no children, I can go back and/or sideways – and the families are interesting … so that’s my way.

Looks like a library to me - but is actually a bookshop:
Daunt Books - various shops in London

There is another bloghop somewhere! asking why and how we got blogging etc … at the end I post a link to Karen Lange’s blog – she interviews bloggers … I appear once!  But there are many others with plenty of advice on blogging and its benefits.

I’ve been wondering where my learning comes from … most is from blogging – as I was not ‘learnéd’ at school … but I did enjoy geography and sport …

Our pink empire is now rusty brown!
… thus I learnt about those pink countries in the world (aka British Empire) … but they’ve become more ghostly as time goes by … Brexiting away as we speak …

John Lennon's stamp album

… from stamp collecting which I did for a few years in my teens, when I was at home … so I enjoy seeing Bob Scotney’s stamps over at his blog …and thus learn more.

Colour coded continents

Geography gave the outline of the continents, and via the stamp collecting and, of course, geography I could put countries into the continents, South America being the easy one.

Waterstones - one of our high street book
chains ... "The Noise of Time" - Julian Barnes;
"When Breath Becomes Air" - Paul Kalanithi;
"The Goldfish Boy" - Lisa Thompson;
"The Ashes of London" - Andrew Taylor

The one thing I do have is a fair amount of is common sense and practicality … so I guess would learn the obvious … but those extras – reading, maths, literature, grammar or languages, Latin and French, art, physics and chemistry, biology, even needlework and cooking – there was not much sticking into the brain box when I was a kid. Something stuck obviously!

Interesting - this is from the Council for the Protection
of Rural England website - and was my first job!

Practical aspects – meant I found it easy to drive and navigate my way round the English lanes, I was lucky I’ve done a little travelling – but not a lot … I enjoyed different foods and cooking … so again another learning curve …

… then work – I had some interesting jobs, not career ones … but I worked for the Farnborough Air Show … taking on board how to address VIPs (as that was my section) …

Munich posters ... I still have a set

I was lucky to work for the British Olympic team and the 1972 Munich Olympics – again an opportunity not to be missed and a 3 day trip to the Games … then spent some years working for East European organisations ... another learning curve ... 

Green: independent; Yellow: British; Blue: French;
Dark Blue: Italian; Red-Orange: Portuguese;
Orange: Spanish; and Brown: Belgian

Then I toddled off to southern Africa … so started to pick up aspects of that part of the world … and over time we glean new things that add in to the tapestry of one’s learning.

I had enjoyed learning to cook and had the fortune of growing up with parents who would do what they could to help educate and entertain us … always with gardens at our disposal …

Back here and into blogging – why because I needed to learn what was going on in the internet world and thus needed to be involved – then my mother became bedridden and needed me to be available, and my father’s brother-in-law grew frailer after his wife died …

… so, though, I didn’t need to nurse them I took on the caring role for both … and needed to have intelligent things to chat about … I quickly took on board … my mother’s ‘well go home and google it’!!!  Thus appearing the next time with interesting articles … and something to intellectually challenge her and for us to chat about …

Mediterranean foods - my mother and uncle would have
loved these sorts of meals

… when I visited my uncle – all he wanted to do was to see what I’d written on my blog … he opened the envelope and got stuck in – I made coffee/tea or lunch … and waited til he was free!  A huge compliment …

But I couldn’t and wouldn’t have started blogging if the main source of information wasn’t in English … we are lucky if we are English speakers … being a poor linguist (lazy too) … I admire everyone who learns to speak another language, especially English …

Spanokopita - spinach and cheese layer
in filo pastry ... 

The University of the Third Age, other organisations, museum and historic places that interest me … have added to the layers of knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years … my uncle and mother would have loved these …

It’s interesting how the layers stack up quietly … and each episode of life adds to its glory … I never thought I’d be that interested in politics, but I do find the Brexit scenario very interesting – complicated, historically interwoven …

Art work in St Hilary's Church, St Hilary in Cornwall
it is by Joan Manning Sanders (early 20th C) - she was a
ten year old child.  (postcard copy)
"Flight into Egypt" from a series of Nativity scenes.
I wonder where we’re going … the thing that frustrates me as another year passes – yes Friday 13th … it was also the day of the week I became 13 … and I’ve lived in a number of # 13s …

… is that I will still be around for a while – but I doubt I’ll see it out … or where we get to … I hope those heavenly clouds up there will allow me to glimpse out and see how life pans out …

Here’s to a glorious life ahead for us all … and let 2017 be kind and generous to one and all …

Karen Lange’s blog – this is to my guest post … but the tabs at the top will lead you to others …

Bob Scotney and his stamps … his post on a Royal Mail stamp set of stamps - which Sir Edmund Hillary described as the 'Greatest Survival Story of All Time'

I have been evaluating how best to tell my stories … yes the A-Z, and the different sections (herbs and spices), bran tub eclectics, blog sandwich updates … and then my own history Herstory … the Her of She Who wouldbe Mary Wollstonecraft … and so it goes on –

-        but I’d better stop as you’ll all be thinking – Golly Gosh does the woman ever stop.  My mother loved my ‘Golly Gosh’ exclamations … one day I missed out Golly … she didn’t miss it – where is he, she asked!  He was by the seaside ... I replied!

to me and my blog ... 
So forgive the excess … it does happen only once a year and that ageing comes around far too quickly … 2017 hasn’t started too well, nor did half of 2016 .. but by 2018 – life will be renewed!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 6 January 2017

Bran Tub # 7: … Marzipan and Museums of Toledo, Lübeck, Tallinn …

We are still in the season of joyfulness … are we not?! … and I love marzipan – how it filtered into my mind for a blog post I have no idea … Christmas provided me with none!

Battenburg Cake ... sandwiched with apricot jam,
surrounded by a layer of marzipan

… now its German name is the popular version … our English Marchpane “March Bread” is no longer in use … though Shakespeare used it in Romeo and Juliet …

… those of us who love marzipan … enjoy one of the oldest sweet pleasures to have spread around the Mediterranean … almonds, honey or sugar, bound with an egg, or just a whisked white, flavoured with a favourite spice …

 … sometimes vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or the zest of orange or lemon, or waters of orange and particularly rose … then do not leave out chocolate – marzipan is especially happy covered with decadent chocolate.

Where did it originate … certainly the Persian and Mediterranean districts, even possibly from as far afield as China … then in the last 1200 years or so it spread overland through Turkey and Eastern Europe … via the Crusades, before using the Hanseatic League merchant guilds in their market towns to establish northern roots … the Guilds dominated Baltic maritime trade from circa 1400 – 1800 AD.

Green = Hanseatic League serving norther Europe
Red = Venetian routes   (they vied with the Genoese)
Yellow = Genoese routes
Blue = overland connections

The Marzipan museums of Lübeck, northern Germany and Tallinn, Estonia remind us of this link through their proud tradition of marzipan manufacture ...

Maiasmokk Cafe, Tallinn

… the market square in Lübeck boasts the always-crowded Café Niederegger –the marzipan known as “harem confectionery”, while attached to the café and shop is the museum …

Tallinn marzipan started in the Middle Ages … and here it is mentioned as a medicine in the price lists of the Tallinn Town Hall Pharmacy … the Maiasmokk Café remembers the tradition of supplying marzipan figurines to the Russian Imperial family, as well as being a café …

Al-Andalus and Christian Kingdoms
c 1000 AD
(Toledo is under the "H")
Or via Moorish Spain and the Iberian Peninsula … where the Arabs expanded the almond and orange orchards, introduced sugar cane cultivation (which is almost non-existent now – there is sugar beet) … and began producing this exquisite paste.  After Arab power waned … the secrets of marzipan-making were secured by the nuns in Catholic convents.

Orange and Almond orchards

To my surprise there are many European centres of marzipan manufacture … with several having supporting marzipan museums … in Europe – each has its own style and flavourings used … baked or unbaked and modelled into a variety of shapes.

Marzipan is ideal for many uses … chocolates filled with the sweet paste, wrapped around nuts, candied fruits, poached in fresh fruits as a dessert …

Is this the new 21st C cappuccino?

There are marzipans made from pistachios, or less expensive ones where almonds are replaced by apricot or peach kernels … but the best is the best … so buy from a controlled source … where you can be sure of your purchase.

My Bran Tub could easily be full to the brim with marzipan chocolate nuts, truffles, batons … but I think my brain would be marzipanified for the year ahead … and that would not be a good idea – an idea for a story though … Death by Marzipan?

Happy New Year … with good health ... perhaps fewer chocolates would be a good idea?

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Onward into 2017 ...

To bring in the year of 2017 I have gone back two hundred years to John Clare’s time (1793 – 1864) – he was an English poet, the son of a farm labourer …

… who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside, but with his lamentation of its disruption.

The poem provides a calendar of the country year, in which the various tasks performed by the farm labourer take their appropriate place: ploughing in February, lambing in March, and hay-making in June.  This has changed I think ... as we plant winter wheat and frost hardy varieties ... so we plough in the Autumn and in the Spring. 

Helpston sign outside Clare Cottage

The countryman’s year is also punctuated by celebrations and festivals, such as May Day games, sheep-shearing feasts, Harvest Home and Christmas.

Rooted in popular culture, the poem has many vivid descriptions of the flowers, birds, and beasts of the hedgerow and field, in the first half of the 1800s.

John Clare's birthplace: Helpston,
six miles north of Peterborough
As you can see his great poem of the farming year is a fascinating piece of social history … together with endearing descriptions of life at the start of the industrial revolution, before the landscape becomes scoured by the unsentimental hand of economic advancement.

Only known photo (1862) of
John Clare
I set out the first two lines for each month … with an appropriate image – the subject of which appears within the stanzas … it is a long poem, but with some amazing vocabulary and descriptive phrases – well worth dipping in and out … especially if your creativity belle has disappeared for a short rest and needs reinvigorating

Now this post has got long … but … here be the twelve months …

Feathery Snow Crystals

Withering and keen the Winter comes,
While Comfort flies to close-shut rooms,

Waiting for the snow to melt and Spring to come along

The snow has left the cottage top;
the thatch-moss grows in brighter green …

Lino cut of horses ploughing
in March

March, month of ‘many weathers,’ wildly comes
In hail, and snow, and rain, and threatening hums …

Speckled Thrush - indicative of April

Now infant April joins the Spring,
And views the watery sky,

Swarthy bees on the grass in May
Come, Queen of Months! In company
With all thy merry minstrelsy:-

Cuckoo in full flight - June
Now Summer is in flower, and Nature’s hum
Is never silent round her bounteous bloom;

Old Sarum, Saxon Castle, in July
July, the month of Summer’s prime,
Again resumes his busy time;

Wheat, Rye and Barley

Harvest approaches with its busy day;
The wheat tans brown, and barley bleaches grey;

Swallowtail - September

Harvest awakes the morning still,
And toil’s rude groups the valleys fill;

Quote by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Nature now spreads around, in dreary hue,
A pall to cover all that summer knew;

Stormy November Skies
The landscape sleeps in mist from morn til noon;
And, if the sun looks through, ‘tis with a face

Christmas traditions

Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,

Here's the link to the John Clare Shepherd's Calendar poem ... 

I've also mentioned him in another post about haymaking ... a typical day at that time ... 

Welcome to us all for 2017 ... I for one need a change up ... so here's to a very happy, blessed, peaceful year full of goodwill ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 16 December 2016

Good King Wenceslas last looked on the Feast of Stephen …

I had absolutely no idea about Good King Wenceslas (907 – 935AD) – I have heartily sung his carol every year, without being aware of his story …

Another of those Bohemian tales … of intrigue, cruelty, murder and power struggles in the medieval period.

He was a good man … not a king, but a duke - who was murdered in AD 935 by his brother Boleslav: to whom he had generously given lands and status.

Boleslav town where Wenceslas lived

A mass burial site at Budec was found in 1982 … it is north of Prague … the Budec massacre is not mentioned in history, but it is speculated that it was part of “the wave of violence that reportedly followed the murder of the Duke”, while Boleslav secured the area.  The younger brother was more of the time and place in history: cruel and power hungry …

St Peter and Paul Church, Budec, Kladno
 ... a prehistoric place of settlement

The martyrdom of Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia … quickly gave rise to a reputation for heroic goodness, resulting in his being elevated to sainthood, posthumously declared king, seen as the patron saint of the Czech state, and who today comes down to us as a man of peace and goodwill.

St Wenceslas Chapel, St Vitus

Let us bring peace to our fellow citizens … helping make our world a better place for everyone – give and receive a smile, live and give hope ….

So let the last two lines of the carol ring out:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Have blessed, peaceful, generous Christmases, New Years with remembrances into 2017 …

I'll be back in the New Year and around otherwise ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Cinnamon – homely and exotic …

… definitely a spice … I will, anon, add a Cinnamon post into my Herbs, Spices and Herbalists series – for now let’s celebrate its festive attributes …

Cinnamon with apple

 We are into that Christmassy spice … oh aroma! wafting from the homely domestic kitchen … the pervading spicy scent inhabiting all corners …

Share mulled wiine while making
Christmas cookies, pomander oranges

Christmas is a-coming … and what better way than with some cinnamon dishes to tempt you to try old favourites, or new ones …

Cinnamon Roll
… share the kitchen with one or two friends, relatives near and dear … try new recipes out … entice, laugh and remember days gone by, look happily to the future …

Cafe de Olla
(see the Piloncillo cone)
Cinnamon – use a stick to stir your coffee … giving it a delicate, elusive flavour … or the Mexican speciality … Café de Olla – flavoured with cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar, typically found in the shape of cones) …

Or how about Persian Rice with Cinnamon ...
this version has lentils instead of pistacchios

Southern Fried Chicken – one of the best known of all American dishes … uses flour mixed with cinnamon as coating before frying … I’m not sure it would go with our Christmas turkey …

Choose the best - it comes from
Ceylon and is not the 'rougher' Cassia

So let’s use our ‘pudding stick’ the old English name for cinnamon … like a wand to transform all manner of foodie delights …

Stir the pudding ... add the cinnamon
Then settle down with some mulled wine, cinnamon sticks included of course … thinking about the baked apples with cinnamon, the Christmas cake, mince pies … some exotic Mexican flavoured chocolate …

Cinnamon Apple Tart - make some to
share at a community event

What more could one want in the build up to the festive season … a few kind words for everyone, a smile, food bank donations, charitable thoughts and pennies, and a good laugh …

Early Medieval Wassailers

Good King Wenceslas visits this blog next … and then it’s relax, chaotic preparation, and down time til the New Year … see you all in a few days …

An Anglo-Saxon greeting … Wassail: Be Thou Hale …:

A wassail, A wassail, A wassail we begin,

With sugar plums and cinnamon, and other spices in;

Sugar Plums and Cinnamon cake

    With a wassail, a wassail, a jolly wassail,

    And may joy come to you and to our wassail

    With a wassail, a wassail, a jolly wassail,

    And may joy come to you and to our wassail.

Please Remember Others ... and our Environment ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories