10 Things You Never Knew About . . . Robbie Burns

RB1Robert Burns, poet, farmer and philosopher. (25th Jan. 1759 – 21st July 1796)

The traditional Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Normally held on or near the poet’s birthday of 25th January they are often referred as Burns Nights.

For a starter, you may consider a home-made Scots broth or cock-a-leekie soup.

The centrepiece of any good Burns Supper menu is the iconic haggis! (Or as the bard himself described it, ‘that great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race’)

RB6Traditional accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties or as they are more commonly known – swede (turnips are fed only to pigs!) and potatoes. These are normally served mashed and well peppered.

Finally, to round off your Burns Supper menu, pudding might consist of a traditional Clootie Dumpling or a classic cranachan.

Whisky is the usual choice of slurp at Burns Suppers, either malts or blends. Contrary to popular belief, adding a little water to your malt should improve rather than dilute the flavour, although some whisky drinkers may not take kindly to watering down their drams!

RB3A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday of 25th January and are often referred as Burns Nights.

 

1. After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure.

RB22. J.D. Salingers famous 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye based its title from a poem by Robert Burns Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.

3. The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp, marking the 160th anniversary of his death in 1956.

RB44. Burns fathered at least 12 children with four different women during his short 37 year lifetime. His youngest child, Maxwell, was born on the day of his funeral.

5. American president Abraham Lincoln had a lifelong admiration for the work of Robert Burns, with some claiming that the poet’s verse played a key role in helping Lincoln win the American civil war and abolish slavery.

RB56. The work of Burns has appeared in hundreds of films and television programmes, including ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946), ‘When Harry met Sally’ (1989) and the 2008 film version of ‘Sex in the City’

7. The city of Atlanta, Georgia, has a life-size replica of the Alloway cottage that Burns was born in. It was built by the Burns Club of Atlanta in 1911. (The town of Mosgiel, near Dunedin, New Zealand was named after Robert Burns’ farm.)

RB78. A miniature book of Robert Burns’ poetry was carried into orbit by astronaut Nick Patrick on a two week space mission in 2010, completing a 5.7 million mile trip and 217 orbits of the Earth.

9. ‘Auld Lang Syne’  is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as being one of the top three most popular songs in the English language. The other two are ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’

10. Burns body was exhumed in 1815 to be placed in a new mausoleum in Dumfries. Whilst his body was above ground, a plaster cast of his skull was taken for study. The skull was measured and discovered to be bigger than the average man’s.

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The Scottish Kitchen

Mountain Goats, Scottish CoastFlag of ScotlandLike England, food in Scotland today is an eclectic mix of many cultures – English, Scandinavian (via the Vikings) Italian, Indian and Chinese. In Scotland, the Scots hold on tightly to their culinary heritage still using local, seasonal foods when available.

Scottish cuisine, to this day, remains simple in its preparation and presentation.

Strome castle ruins“S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh” 

(He who has contempt for food is a fool!)

As a cook of many years standing this attitude of the Scots toward food and cooking ‘warms the cockles of the heart’. I mean, the fact that the Scots accept haggis, a combination of sheep’s intestines, oatmeal and whiskey blended together and cooked in a sheep’s stomach, as their National Dish Haggis Recipe - cartoondisplays a degree of fortitude and endurance that epitomises the race as a whole! Add to that the production of the majority of the finest malt whisky’s in the world and one may begin to understand the traditional Scotsmans attitude to life, the Universe and everything!

Cuillin Mountains, ScotlandOats are still widely eaten, as is fish, game, and of course beef. Scottish soft fruits such as raspberries and strawberries, are renowned throughout the UK as are Scottish cheeses, fruits and vegetables likewise.

The Scottish kitchen is an abundance of soups and broths including Cock-a-Leekie, Scotch Broth, Cullen Skink (a soup from Cullen on the shores of the Moray Firth usually made with Finnan Haddock) and Brose, a simple soup of Kale, with a handful of oatmeal.

Eilean Donan Castle, ScotlandFish is a staple of Scotland coming from the lochs, streams, river and magnificent coastline. Fish and seafood are plentiful and Scottish salmon (smoked and fresh) is world-renowned as are Arbroath Smokies (small smoked haddock).

The Scottish table will have meats a-plenty. Beef, game (particularly venison and game birds) not forgetting of course the national dish, haggis, which was famous Traigh Sheilebost, Harrisenough for the Scots poet Robbie Burns to pen an ode.

And also not forgetting Forfar Bridies, a pasty not dissimilar to a Cornish Pasty. Scotland is celebrated for its baking and puddings.

The Clootie Dumpling, not unlike an English suet pudding is, along with Scottish shortbread as legendary as oatcakes and pancakes.

Ballachulish in Winter, Western HighlandsThe Scots have learned over the years to make best use of the offerings nature has endowed them with from the wild and rugged mountains, the lakes, lochs and streams, to the fertile valleys and moorlands.

Despite folk legend, the climate of Scotland is relatively normal in southern and central parts, although the highlands and islands can be subject to some pretty awesome winters.

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Christmas Through The Eyes Of Womans Weekly

WE 79Womens Magazines have provided a wealth of interesting articles over the years and here are some I found in a more recent publication that reproduced pages and articles from its own publication base.

Xmas 39

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another fine source of information was Good Housekeeping, a publication that continues to this day.

I have previously published posts on Christmas Cakes, Christmas Breads, Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding, indeed the entire Christmas Dinner.

As we move into December I have a number of new and hopefully entertaining articles on the history of Christmas!

Xmas 25

Xmas 51

Xmas 44

And finally, to continue the early twentieth century practice of blatantly patronising women, here is an advertisement from 1926 suggesting the ideal Christmas present for the lady of the house!

Xmas 26

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A New Home For the Archive

Following a fairly major refurbishment over the past six months the archive has finally moved to its new permanent home in a purpose built space under the stairs.

The cookbook itself remains tucked away in its own drawer for safekeeping but the remainder are now in a far more accesible location.

With Christmas approaching it will soon be time to review some of the older posts and introduce some new infomation that came to light during  the move.

The previous posts remain of course, the Chrismas cakes and assorted national breads, the sweets and mince pies, the games and pastimes of a far less digitised and electronic age.

Not forgetting of course the traditional Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings.

All being equal, everything on the posting front should resume shortly.

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Don’t Just Book It . . .

Thomas Cook It!

Sadly, no longer! One of the world’s best known holiday brands, since 1841 Thomas Cook, has taken millions of holidaymakers around the world, responding to and creating a growing market and an emerging hunger for foreign travel.

It created the way in which we spent our holidays exploring a bigger, wider world that the majority of people had only ever dreamed of.

Those of a ‘certain age’, spotting the once ubiquitous red and white logo will smile indulgently in recognition of the incredible family friendliness the brand continues to enjoy. To go into a local travel agent, pick up a few brochures, consult with the family and return to book a holiday was an event, a part of the complete experience.

When Leicestershire cabinet-maker Thomas Cook founded the business it was more for local excursions than foreign holidays but as a former Baptist preacher, he wanted to offer working class people a form of educational entertainment to divert them from drinking!.

The UK’s newly created railway system persuaded him to offer his first trip, from Leicester to Loughborough, at the cost of a shilling per head for the twelve miles round trip. Those travelling were so-called ‘temperance supporters’ and supporting the prohibition of alcohol. The visit was such a success that Thomas Cook repeated it over several summers on behalf of Sunday schools which laid the foundations for the business.

After having pioneered trips around the British Isles and to London’s Great Exhibition, in 1855 Thomas Cook set his sights across the Channel to Paris where the International Exhibition was being held. His commercial tour there, which fuelled an interest in easier access to other European destinations, was a huge success, and before long Thomas Cook was taking travellers to America, Asia and the Middle East. The company flourished, fuelled by the growing middle classes and their desire to travel. When, in 1892, Thomas Cook died his son, John Mason Cook took over running the company from his father.

It stayed in family hands, Thomas Cook’s grandsons adding winter sports, motor car tours and commercial air travel to its offerings during the early part of the 20th until suddenly at the end of the 20’s it changed hands for the first time when the grandsons unexpectedly sold the business to the owner of the Orient Express.

At the outbreak of World War Two, Thomas Cook was nationalised by the British government as part of British Railways, to save it from the Nazi occupation. The post-war years saw a holiday boom in the UK, taking holidaymakers on package holidays abroad but also to its holiday camp in Prestatyn, North Wales.

By the 70’s Thomas Cook had been taken private and expanded its network of High Street travel shops through a string of acquisitions beyond which it went global with its airline business coming into being in 1999.

But despite its swift and heady expansion Thomas Cook retained a dedicated UK following, ferrying some 20 million people on holiday each year. The end it would seem has been swift and ignominious. Stories of mismanagement of funds and enormous Executive pay-offs are rife in the press and on the news channels. I shall follow their fate as it rolls out but when it comes down to the brass buttons,  all’s fair in love and big business!

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Summer Sun For The Winter

The Preserve of Preserves

With the end of summer and the beginnings of a rapid slide into winter I thought I’d celebrate with a glass of wine! Except that the wine itself is not yet ready! It is a ‘work in progress’ as they say.

This particular vintage was made with three different fruits :
Loganberries, blackberries and plums.

The recipe (adapted) for this particular vintage comes from a semi-ancient volume dated around 1956 and I shall be posting some of the more interesting items there-from in the near future!

The history of wine is probably longer and more complex than that of food simply for the dedication involved and the unequivocal ‘euphoria factor’

But be that as it may! Some, especially chocoholics, may disagree but despite long years in the wilderness wine is now making a good showing in the UK. Later in the season (year) I hope to be making a drop of cider from gathered apples with the possible addition of sloes or a touch of elderberry!

It’s quite amazing what you can make a beverage from! If it ferments, it’s fair game!

But seriously, as the title suggests, wine is merely another way of preserving summers bounty. Like jams and pickles it is something for the larder, a pleasure to be kept for that ‘special’ occasion!

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Notions, Lotions & Potions

The link between the field and the pharmacy has been a part of everyday life for thousands of years.

Home remedies, herb-lore and housewives tales fuelled the researches, begun by the ancient Greeks and Romans, to become a pillar of medical therapy from antiquity right through the Middle Ages and on into the renaissance.

For the most part, medications were derived from the natural world, plant, mineral or animal, to produce results from the combination of different substances, each with their own specific properties and therapeutic effects.

From the plethora of information that ensued there arose a diaspora of knowledge, far and wide, informing physicians and apothecaries of the useful properties and therapeutic powers of natural remedies which led to the development of an immense quantity of literature, in both the West and the East.

Such a work, involving countless texts ranging from herbals, bestiaries and medical lapidaries as well as miscellanies including all three types of substance became a large and for the most part unwieldy source of definitive answer.

The process of reconstructing and refining such a broad work as the development of pharmacological and pharmaceutical literature in Greek, Arabic and Latin is complex and time consuming in itself, but much is still much to be done.

Add to that the fact that there is very little solid connection between the texts that were produced and how they influenced each other and the sheer timescales involved.

A collection of medical recipes describing nature and the therapeutical properties of natural elements, compiled in the 11th to 13th centuries known as the ‘Liber de simplici medicina’ (book on simple medicine) or ‘Circa instans’ was attributed to a certain ‘Platearius’, possibly a Salernitan physician.

The pragmatic, user-friendly structure of ‘Circa instans’ made it especially useful to medical practitioners. The collection provides a selection of about 270 natural substances derived from plants, animals and minerals. Plants are the most consistently represented category while the text is structured in alphabetical order, regardless of whether the substance is animal, vegetable or mineral.

The Medieval Period lasted from around 476 to 1453 AD, starting around the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

The Early Medieval period began when invasions broke up Western Europe into small territories run by feudal lords which led to the majority of people living in rural servitude.

By 1350, the average life expectancy was a mere 30-35 years and 1 in 5 children died at birth. There were no facilities for public health or education and communication was poor.

People were also superstitious, the majority couldn’t read or write, and there was no schooling and the local apothecary (or wise-man/woman) would provide herbs and potions to maintain the general health of the local demesne.

So how does all this affect Granny Robertson and her early twentieth century world I hear you ask. Well, considerably more than should be expected I imagine.

She received not only recipes but holistic potions handed down through the family, mainly by word of mouth, but there were also the long held truisms from the most bedded down rural communities that, despite huge advances in medical treatment remained true.

She would not have approved of this, her world was closed. God, the church, education, respectful manners and respect for what had gone before were her watch words while medicinal chicanery and ancient herblore were as the saying goes, ‘kept under wraps’

How swiftly and consumately the world changes.

 

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