PPC 88 (August 2009)
Notes on Contributors
KEN ALBALA is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and author of nine books on food history including Eating Right in the Renaissance and Beans: A History. He is also editor of three food series for Greenwood Press and co-editor of the journal Food Culture and Society. ALASTAIR BLAND has written for PPC before. He lives in California and is developing a career in journalism and writing about food. LYNNE CHATTERTON lives in Umbria and grows olives. Her husband Brian Chatterton was formerly Minister of Agriculture in the government of South Australia and together they have considerable expertise in matters agricultural. MICHELE FIELD was formerly literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald but now lives in London and writes extensively on food matters, especially where they touch on political and public life. PHILIP IDDISON is a civil engineer and an allotment-holder in Twickenham. His allotment diaries are a record of back-breaking toil and will be published in the next volume of proceedings from the Oxford Symposium. GILLY LEHMANN has recently retired from the Université de Franche-Comté and has written extensively on the food history of the eighteenth century. GILES MACDONOGH has written lives of Grimod de la Reynière and Brillat-Savarin as well as many books on German and Prussian history. GILLIAN RILEY is author of the Oxford Companion to Italian Food and omniscient about food in art. WILLIAM SAYERS is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He writes on medieval western European languages and literatures and works in collection development in the Cornell University Library system, with responsibility for new acquisitions in the areas of French, Italian, Netherlandic, and Scandinavian languages, literatures, and history.
THE COVER ILLUSTRATION
The photograph on the cover is of our top field cut for hay in possibly the best haymaking weather we have had for a decade. The small black dot in the middle of the picture is the motorized scythe with which I cut it. The disparity between the cutter and the cut took three days’ hard labour to resolve. The exercise reminded me how haymaking was never a solitary activity, that men with scythes and women with rakes were recruited by the battalion to fulfil the urgent task. We too, in previous years, have invited friends and neighbours to a bribing lunch which we designed to be not too heavy so that digestion could be eased by a spot of loading or gathering. This year it looked as if I was alone but the nature of farming work makes such isolation difficult to sustain. To start, the scythe, daunted by the scale of the job, repeatedly expired, requiring skilled resuscitation by our generous neighbour Philip White. Then I too rebelled at the thought of turning and raking, and possibly stacking, the harvest and succeeded in persuading complaisant farmers to finish the job by machine. Nowadays, of course, our old-fashioned gates are not large enough to admit the new-fangled giants from the tractor store. This adds a new dimension to the conundrum. But co-operation won the day and we have some fat, round bales ready for the barn.
THE LEEDS SYMPOSIUM
The twenty-fourth Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions took place in April in York (the migration seems now permanent). Its subject was the pig and it proved a very rewarding day, full of informative talks and excellent foods. Umberto Albarella of Sheffield University, Britain’s foremost authority on porcine history and archaeology, told us much about the archaeology. I rushed home to read his Pigs and Humans 10,000 Years of Interaction (Oxford, £93 – yes, £93) a set of essays by several hands, mainly archaeological, that tell you a lot about pigs here, in the ancient Middle East, in Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere. Archaeological work is difficult to digest: much space is occupied describing methods, charting ranges of possibilities, suggesting ways of interpretation. Surprisingly little is occupied with telling the reader things he might like to know. This is no criticism, merely a reflection on the form. But there are some good things, although Mr Albarella’s talk made far more sense to the layman. He is also associated with another study of the archaeological record of Britain’s fauna: The History of British Birds by D.W. Yalden (Oxford, £55) which is just out. This is much more accessible, indeed it might be said to be compulsory reading, not least for the fact that the most common British bird is the wren (who would have said that?). Everything at York this year was enjoyable, but I might single out the description of pig butchery and Lincolnshire customs, as well as a matchless stuffed chine, given by Mr Eric Phipps, the county’s star butcher and chine-maker. Peter Brears’ account of how to stuff a boar’s head was also very instructive and the more memorable for the chance to sample one he had made earlier. The text of the next volume of proceedings from the Leeds Symposium is now in my hands and will soon be in preparation. It is a study of cooking ranges and open-hearth techniques. It is called Over a Red Hot Stove and is edited by Ivan Day.
RICHARD GOUGH AND MYDDLE
When we met at York, Peter Brears was telling me of his latest project, a short history of food in Shropshire which is to be published by David Burnett’s Excellent Press in Ludlow. (By way of parenthesis, I am not sure I have reported that Peter’s Cooking and Dining in Medieval England won the André Simon Memorial Trust’s Food Book of the Year award, which was gratifying for author and publisher alike.) He reported his enjoyment of the early 18th-century book by Richard Gough The History of Myddle, a parish in Shropshire. It was reprinted in Penguin Classics not so many years ago, and was produced by the Folio Society in the same edition. Gough, who was a local yeoman-farmer with some years’ experience as clerk and assistant to a Shropshire JP and wealthy gent, hence better educated than his status might imply, told the story by recounting the family histories of all the pew-holders in the parish church, pew by pew by pew. It is an amazing ragbag of anecdote, Old Testament begat and begat again, and reflection on the previous century of social, political and religious turmoil. It gives pause to any who would undersell the trauma of the Civil War. Peter Brears was delighted to find that Gough includes reference to and anecdote about more than one professional cook – a social group that can sometimes seem pretty opaque. I will not spoil his discovery by retelling it here, but I could not resist the chance to reproduce two of Gough’s tales, both involving bread ovens. They give some flavour of the whole, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The first concerns a ne’er-do-well called Reece (Rhys to you and me) Wenlocke:
the greatest diskindeness that hee did to his neighbours was, by tearing theire hedges. And it is reported, that hee had made a new oven; and, according to the manner of such things, it was att first to bee well burnt, to make it fitt for use, and this hee intended to doe in the night. Att that time William Higginson dwelt att Webscott, and hee had a servant, named Richard Mercer, a very waggish fellow. This Mercer did imagine that Reece would teare his master’s hedges to burne the oven; and as hee walked by a hedge, which was neare Reece’s house, hee saw there a great dry sticke of wood, and tooke it home with him, and bored a hoale in the end of it with an augur, and putt a good quantyty of powder in it, and a pegge after it, and putt it againe into the hedge. And it happened, that Reece Wenlocke, among other hedge-wood, tooke this stick to burne in is oven; and when hee cast it into the fire in the oven, it blowed up the topp of it, and sett fire on the end of the house. Reece went out and made a hideouse crying, fyre! fyre! William Higginson, beeing the next neighbour, heard him, and called Mercer, butt hee sayd I know what is the matter; however, they went both downe to the Meare House, but Reece had putt out the fyre that was in the end of the house, and the oven was broaken to peices.
The second tells of mayhem between three ‘idle, drunken, rude fellows’, the first of whom is Richard Eavens, a man noted for his willingness to tangle and his general hot-headedness. One of the most interesting aspects of Gough’s narrative is the terrible effect of drink (not usually strong drink either) on the economic fortunes of countless families.
When Eavans called and Bassnett opened the doore, and when Mr Eavans saw him, hee said, Dam ye thou art not mine host. What provoakeing words Bassnet gave I know not, but Mr Eavans drew his sword, and Basnett shut the doore and talked with him throw the window. What passionate words passed I cannot tell, but I have cause to thinke they were such as is too usuall amongst drunken persons. Basnett stept out at the back doore and Hinton with him, and comeing to the oven on the backside Basnett tooke a peele with which they put bread into the oven, and Hinton tooke a pole which they call an oven proaker. – (Invenit arma furor.) – They leaped over the hedge and meeting with Mr Eavans as hee was going from the house Basnett strooke him with the peele which broake at the first blow, and Hinton comeing behinde Mr Eavans gave him a blow with the pole on the hinder part of his head which made him couch downe to the horse’s necke, and with a second blow hee strucke him off his horse; some say hee gave him severall blowes when hee was fallen. They went againe into the house and made fast the doore and left Mr Eavans wallowing in his blood in the highway. The people of the house did not come out nor call the neighbours, but Price who was his companion came into the towne and inquired for the constable, and sent him and severall of the neighbours to him. It was halfe-an-hour, some say an hour before any one came to him; and when they came they found there was life in him, but neither sense nor motion. The neighboures desired Mary Benion to open her doore that they might bring him in and lay him on a bedde but shee refused. But when Bassnett and Hinton were fled out at the backe doore and the constable threatened to breake the door shee opened it.
Mention of Eric Phipps, the chine-maker from Lincolnshire, reminds me of the existence of Good Taste. The Magazine from Tastes of Lincolnshire. It is now in its ninth issue and manages to arrest its headlong dispatch to wastepaper by having something worth reading, as well as decent presentation. The editor Mary Powell brings credit to the idea of regionalism in British food. It costs you nothing (www.tastesoflincolnshire.com).
I realize, with a small shock, that it is sixteen years since I took the reins of Prospect Books from Alan and Jane Davidson. This is longer than I am usually married. There have been reforms and revolutions this year. I wish I could be announcing the appointment of a CEO, or perhaps a CFO would be more to the point, but I am glad to announce the conclusion of an agreement with a new firm of trade representatives. We were bereft of such a service with the demise of Troika in 2007 and have had many diversions since that date. I hope that our new alliance with Signature Book Services Limited, 20 Castlegate, York will result in wider distribution of our titles in the English trade. The importance of the Internet grows daily and in a short while our website will be reconstructed thanks to the proximate early retirement from other duties of our webmaster, Andrew Gosling. I hope that our site will assume a new and sparkling guise and that we will re-establish a shop facility with even the chance of secure on-line credit card transactions. The prosperity and survival of small publishers is a constant preoccupation whether lying in bed, giggling at our MPs, or pounding the keyboard. This is mere preface to a whinge so divert now if you can’t take self-pity. For readers of that hue, I should immediately agree to the proposition that there are good small publishers and bad. The good survive, the bad do not. I would plead for a third category: the woolly. The woolly are not bad, they might sometimes be good, but they are a trifle amateur; or they may be single-minded and unwilling to fuss with the necessary evils of success. Or they may just be a little woolly. In a kinder environment the woolly survive because their heart is in the right place. Currently, the woolly have a tough time. The structure of the British book trade is pretty weird. The necessary deductions from a book’s retail price before the publisher gets any revenue are surprising to say the least. Let us take Peter Brear’s Cooking & Dining in Medieval England as an example. It costs £30; the author takes 10 per cent royalty; the bookshop requires its discount, either 35 or 40 per cent; the bookseller’s discount will effectively be higher if he is supplied via a wholesaler, which is a new layer in the trading structure, not much more than 25 years old, who takes books from publishers’ distributors and sells them bit by bit to subscribing booksellers. The wholesaler will expect a discount of 50 per cent. At this point, the distributor will take his cut which is usually 12 or 15 per cent and, if it is a trade sale, the trade representative or salesman will ask for 10 per cent (these last two are percentages of the invoice value to shop or wholesaler). In mathematical terms this looks like this: £30.00 – £3.00 – £10.50 – £2.92 – £1.95 = £11.63. If the deal was with a wholesaler we have £30.00 – £3.00 – £15.00 – £2.25 – £1.50 = £8.25. If our arrangement was an exclusive via Amazon, they might expect a discount of 65 per cent. This would not be subject to a commission to our trade reps but we would have to pay the distributor’s commission if the shipment goes through them. The sum would then look like this: £30.00 – £3.00 – £19.50 – £1.57 = £5.93. This is for a nicely produced book of 550 pages which cost £4.50 a copy to print enough stock to last 18 months. The only way this really works is to either print hundreds of titles or sell thousands of copies. If you don’t have enough capital to print hundreds of titles and you produce books that sell in tens rather than hundreds, then it is quite difficult to rub along. The giants of the world of books will urge you to endorse and support their schemes because they increase your sales and hence your income. Whether it is Amazon or Google or even, to be frank, Waterstones on the High Street, I spit upon their ambitions. Rather as the small food producer is cajoled by Tesco/Sainsbury, so the small publisher should have as little to do with these people as possible. Whatever they think up is for their profit, not yours. We, like a goat’s cheese-maker of the lower Wym valley, should encourage personal contact, direct sales, engagement with the end-user. Hence perhaps our projected improvement of the website. A concrete example of the Amazon effect is Peter Brear’s book used above. If you order that from Amazon today they will quote you a price of £19.50 with free delivery. The Book Depository on the same site quotes £17.94 plus £2.75 delivery. The only way that either of these organizations can obtain this book is via the wholesalers to whom we give 50 per cent discount. Given that the wholesalers must allow some profit for themselves, and that there are now two postal movements to absorb, the price of £17.94 is ludicrous. They cannot be making more than 50 pence. Who does this benefit? It makes a nonsense of the retail bookseller on the High Street; or it makes a nonsense of our insisting on only giving 35 per cent to that retailer. Were a customer to come direct to me I would be happy to give them a full trade discount because I would be pocketing all those commissions that otherwise would have been paid and the customer would be as happy as going to Amazon. And Amazon would be bankrupt – whoopee! A cautionary tale on this angle is the greed of other publishers. I wanted OUP’s edition for the British Academy of The Diary of Ralph Josselin. Not available in any bookshop nearby, I dreaded the long delay in supply if I ordered in the normal fashion. Therefore, I telephoned OUP’s direct line to get it through the post. They had the gall to charge not only the full price but the postage too. Another solution is to charge more for the books. As far as I can see the structure of the trade (and at this point I should just observe that every deal between publisher and seller is reversible in the seller’s favour; very few of these transactions are firm sales, all on a sale or return: not only do they take our revenue but they expect us to capitalize them as well) results in a terrible increase in the cost of books to the reader. Of course, titles that are expected to sell well are priced low to promote that end, but titles of indisputably minority interest are hammered to extinction. The only reason that Oxford University Press charges £93.00 for Pigs and Humans (above) are the crazy discounts and commissions which force the price up and up until there is some acceptable fraction remaining for the producer. These prices appear to me also to be the consequences of publisher greed, it’s not just the fault of someone else. The way in which university libraries were held to ransome by academic publishers and learned journals in the years since the infamous Robert Maxwell at Pergamon Press is shocking. It has also queered the pitch for enterprises like Prospect. They swallow the libraries’ limited budgets leaving nothing for us. Our programme for the next year or two is in a manner of speaking fixed. A lot of money will be swallowed reprinting old favourites: an improved version of Honey from a Weed is about to appear (I’ve given it paperback flaps); Cooking Weeds is about to be reprinted; Building a Wood-Fired Oven has gone to its thirteenth or fourteenth impression. Then there are some titles which we have programmed but not announced which I mentioned in the last issue. The titles we have announced are as follows: Taste or Taboo: Dietary Choices in Antiquity, Michael Beer, £12.00. This is a short book on the significance of food and what was eaten to the classical world; what they meant to one’s perceptions of oneself or of others; how they contributed to a world view. The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy, Giacomo Castelvetro, ed. and trans. Gillian Riley, £12.00. This is a reprint of a wonderful book, first published by Viking. The text is reset (under the supervision of Gilian Riley herself), and it will be printed in two colours. There will not be the generous illustration of the first edition, but it will be a seemly production. The Centaur’s Kitchen, Patience Gray, £15.00. This is a reprint of Patience’s last published work (though written before Honey, etc.). It was her advice and instructions to the cooks of the Blue Funnel shipping line’s Centaur, plying between Fremantle in Western Australia and Singapore. The new edition, in paperback and smaller format than our first, will retain some of Miranda Gray’s lovely illustrations. Over a Red Hot Stove: Essays in Early Cooking Technology, ed. Ivan Day, £30.00. This is the next volume of the proceedings of the Leeds Symposium and discusses early cooking technology, particularly the cooking range, the clockwork spit and open-fire spit roasting. Food & Drink in Archaeology 2, ed. Sera Baker, £20.00. The next volume of archaeological papers from the Nottingham University conference. Sir Hugh Plat: the Search for Useful Knowledge in Early-modern London, Malcolm Thick, £30.00. This is the first full-dress biography of Plat and an extended discussion of his inventions, projects, writings and contribution to food, cookery and much else. Lots of new, solidly researched material here. The Realm of Fig and Quince, Ria Loohuizen, £9.99. Another of Ria’s little books on trees. Good recipes and nice lore. Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 2008, ed. Susan R. Friedland, £30.00. A further volume of this series, some good stuff on a chewable topic. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, Kt., Opened (1669), ed. Peter Davidson and Jane Stevenson, £15.00. A paperback reprint of this, my favourite seventeenth-century cookery book. Digby was just such a cracking chap. Trifle, Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson, £9.99. A reprint with a new cover, etc., of the first of our English Kitchen series. It’s such fun.
A NET OF EELS
Jake Tilson has announced an exhibition which he describes as ‘of new work by British artist/writer/cook Jake Tilson and Japanese photographer/cultural commentator Lyoichi Tsuzuki, “A Net of Eels” is a playful and evocative exploration of the complex cultural and culinary significance of the Eel in Japan and the UK.’ The show runs from the 10 July to 23 August at The Wapping Project, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, London E1W 3SG. As might be expected, Jake Tilson is offering a wealth of photographs, information and enlightenment, together with his pleasing graphic tricks such as this deceptive map.
I was contacted by the author of the book The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice whose name is Michael Krondl. The book was published in 2007 (now Ballantine Books, 2008). I confess to not having seen the book but am impressed by his extensive website providing a footnoted text so you can chase his references, as well as interactive features (http://www.spicehistory.net). Mr Krondl is currently writing a book on the history of dessert and one of the chapters will be on the Middle East and Ottoman Turkey.
COOKING WITH KANTOROWICZ
As a young student of history, there was no medievalist more impressive than Ernst Kantorowicz, biographer of the Emperor Frederick II and the author of The King’s Two Bodies. The imagination tended to overheat when faced with the speculative and theoretical style of European historians such as Kantorowicz and Panofsky, especially if you had been brought up on T.F. Tout and Powicke. So it was with tremendous pleasure that I opened a letter from Ian Jackson in Berkeley, California containing his latest pamphlet (four pages) titled as above. The style is all Jackson, the subject is the historian’s recipe for a beefsteak with a sauce diable entitled ‘Diable Surpris’. I will tell you no more for fear of spoiling the many-layered jokes and sense of intellectual community that always seem present in Jackson’s writing. Five hundred copies were printed last month and you can obtain one free of charge if you write to PO Box 9075, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA.
DR ROBB-SMITH AND E. DAVID
One of the thrills of this month has been picking up palpable bargains as Liz Seeber clears her house of past stock-in-trade. She wishes me to announce very firmly that she has now ceased the business. We wish her well, and rue its passing. Very kindly, she sent over to me some correspondence between the late Elizabeth David and the bio-bibliographer of Hannah Glasse, the late Dr Alistair Robb-Smith. This reminded me of the gripping bibliographical conundrum that was posed by Prospect’s first facsimile edition of Glasse’s Art of Cookery. This problem was solved when we reissued the facsimile with a new introduction and prefatory essays. I’m not sure, however, that it was ever explained, though this may be another instance of memory’s fragility. If you own the first and most handsome edition, the pages in question are 55 and 56, most specifically the latter. There, after two and a half recipes, is the chapter heading ‘Chap. V. To Dress Fish.’ There follow an introductory paragraph and three recipes. The catchword to this page is ‘To’. This catchword is not picked up on page 57 which starts ‘A Ragoo of Livers’. What seems to have happened is that the printer in 1747 made some form of error and should never have started chapter 5 on page 56. Readers of the modern facsimile will realize this when they encounter a second commencement to chapter 5 on page 60. There is obviously something funny going on. Because of the way the books were put together, the printer’s solution was to print a correct version of 55 and 56 and then remove the incorrect version once the pages were gathered for binding. This is what happened to the vast majority of copies. But not all of them. Dr Robb-Smith found five copies where the printer or bookbinder had failed to cut out the original cancelland. At this point we encounter Murphy’s Law. Alan Davidson had used Mark Cherniavsky’s copy of the 1747 edition as his photographic source. Where any pages in this copy were defective beyond improvement then a photograph of the page from the copy in the Brotherton Library at Leeds was substituted. Page 56 in the Cherniavsky edition was obscure so was replaced by a Brotherton version. It just so happened that the copy in the Preston Collection was one of the few where the cancelland had not been removed. Thus the substitute page was in fact an error and not the one seen in the finished 1747 edition.
I ran out of space in this much-delayed (my apologies) issue. So I was unable to mention my favourite current cookery book, Jojo Tulloh’s Freshly Picked, Kitchen Garden Cooking in the City (Chatto & Windus, £20). Excellent recipes and engaging commentary. Another interesting book, timely indeed, is Lamees Ibrahim’s The Iraqi Cookbook (Stacey International, £24.95). I was also unable to descant on my plans for establishing an online presence of PPC. However, all that must wait for number 89.
One of the enjoyable moments of the last nine months was my introduction to Hotspur, the most original parish magazine in England. It is the creation of Jamie Warde-Aldam. If you google ‘Warde-Aldam Hotspur’ you will get an example from 2006. The format and theme of each issue are different, the most recent topic being ‘Somewhere’. You can guarantee some strange and oblique connections, both verbal and visual, to the matter in hand and these will refresh and amuse you. I particularly like the fact that it is paper-based and not really of the Web. I urge you to find out more. The editor’s e-mail is <email@example.com>. As reinforcement of these statements I print below Mr Warde-Aldam’s creative solution to encouraging subscription and support. Maybe it will inspire you.
IN THE DINOSAURS’ WAITING ROOM
A special story for Hotspur patrons by the editor. In the first months after Joanna left, Dudley kept his own company. The silence of the house was something he needed, it bolstered his pretence that she was still there, in one of her extended, mute sulks. Switching on the wireless was like breaking a spell. Even the rustle of a newspaper was sacrilege to the quiet he cultivated. Mrs Abingdon, the cleaner, had continued to come in two mornings a week and, he reflected, did her level Christian best for him. But his leaden glooms and irritable shushings defeated her generous nature and she’d given in her notice. Now of course it was different. 18 Basset Grove was like a TV stage set for a bachelor sitcom. A fridge full of gin, tonic, olives and white wine, Mozart on the music centre and, this morning, the heart-quickening snap of elastic on bare thigh, as Julie got herself ready for a lunchtime shift at the Black Horse. They’d met shortly after he’d decided to smoke himself to death. A neat way to avoid the stigma of suicide, he thought: slow and, he’d read, relatively painless. It wouldn’t take long at his age. He’d left the house for the first time in months and walked nervously towards the pub over the damp common. It was midday and their eyes locked before either had time to speak. Dudley forgot about change for the cigarette machine and asked for a gin and tonic. He was a well kept sixty-five year old with a slightly ruffled look and nicely tailored trousers. She had chestnut hair, green eyes and a smoky laugh which suggested everything unsuitable you’d care to imagine. Twice married, she’d recently finished with the last in a longish line of sulky young men from the local cricket team. She informed Dudley that she was looking for someone she couldn’t steal sweets from. He’d bought her a bag of gobstoppers and a bottle of Bailey’s that afternoon. Their relationship was founded on a mutual sigh of relief that the world had suddenly become less complicated. Life revolved around the Dirty Donkey as the regulars called the place. Tarquin, the landlord, had cleverly targeted the ageing Gin n’ Jag set and there wasn’t a lunchtime where retired doctors, bank managers and stockbrokers weren’t queuing for gastro-pub fare. Younger drinkers usually took one look at the wrinkled contents of the saloon bar and fled. There was something almost shocking about witnessing senior citizens in such glowing health: talking, flirting like teenagers and downing expensive-looking drinks as if there was no tomorrow. The Black Horse was a club in essence, much like the milk bars Dudley had hung about in as a teenager, and the pub back rooms where he’d skulked in his undergraduate years. There was no need for a door policy: sheer terror kept everyone else away. Subscriptions were rolled into Tarquin’s stealthy and exorbitant mark-ups and the dress code was a particular English smart/casual which spelt money and little else. And so, Dudley was content to all outward appearances. He didn’t think about Joanna very much. And when, occasionally, his expression became melancholy and Julie asked tenderly if he was thinking about ‘her’, he’d cha