Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Istvan …

As you know I’ve been reading the Patrick Leigh Fermor books – and keep posting snippets as he reminds me of things … relative to today, or in the centuries gone – albeit he wrote his books about eighty years ago … travelling in the 1930s from Amsterdam to Istanbul.  Exquisite language!  Excellent knowledge!

The Broken Road from the
Iron Gates to Mount Athos
Fermor's last book in the tilogy

I’m about to embark on reading the last of his trilogy “The Broken Road … From the Iron Gate to Mount Athos”

… the Iron Gate (or the Gate of Trajan) is a gorge on the Danube River between Serbia and Romania; … Fermor has a sad story after the building of two hydro-electric power stations requiring the removal of an indigenous and special peoples, who had lived on an island for centuries that is now submerged.

It's tea time and as you can see I have a
steady hand for giving you an idea where
the Iron Gate is to be found!

… while Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in north-eastern Greece: it is governed as an autonomous polity within the Greek Republic - its status is unique, but it is technically part of the EU …

However between my devouring of the first and the second books in the trilogy, I read “Before the Glory Ended” by Ursula Zilinksy … an author I’d never heard of … but her book had returned with me from South Africa, all those 25 years ago.

Greek peninsula of Mount Athos is
shown by the splodge in red!

I was hooked – it’s fascinating and romantic, and covers the 1930s – 1956 (the early years of which Fermor travelled) … (Anschluss 1938 [annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany] to the Hungarian revolt against the Russians in 1956).

Before the Glory Ended by
Ursula Zilinsky

Sadly it’s not cheap … otherwise I’d recommend it – still worth it though … I could write up the cover frontispiece and back cover – which make informative reads … so let me know ... 

“… with the lightest of touches she (Zilinsky) moves her settings from Paris, to Vienna, to Budapest, London and back to Europe …”   perhaps you can see what I’m trying to convey from this sentence …

Stephen 1 of Hungary

So back to the title of the post “Istvan” .. why Istvan? – because the name crops up with both authors … and I’d never heard of it before – yes we’re dealing with Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria … but could these people be the same – a noble house full of romantic heroes – counts, dukes, gallant knights … ?

That got me to looking up “Istvan” … I reached this website … “Behind the Name” … and what did I find … but the Hungarian form of “Stephen”!

Well that surprised me … seeing as I’d just written about “Good King Wenceslas last looked on the Feast of Stephen” … talk about co-incidences.  So all these romantic hero guys were ‘Stephens’!!

Istvan Meszaros - Professor Ermitus University of Sussex
(Hungarian Philosopher)

But the site is interesting … I found a list of ShakespeareCharacters

Istvan Ferenczy - Hungarian Sculptor
- who walked to Rome to further
his knowledge and art

You never know what you’re going to find as the day starts … but I couldn’t resist telling you about this website – perhaps you’ve come across it …

So my hero ‘Istvan’ … is the romantic “English Stephen” … this was one of those times I’d made a fool of myself …  such is life … but I’d learnt something in the process …

Here’s to each and every Stephen, Steven, Eztebe, Stephanos, Estienne, Stjepan, Estevan, Stefan … et al …

PS let me know re the Zilinksy idea ... I'd quite like to do it - it'll be after the A-Z ... probably summer time ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Write ... Edit ... Publish ... bloghop - Back of the Drawer

Who was this … the old sepia photo showed a woman from long ago … and this fragile piece of paper with a few words on it …

They had inherited the desk with the house … it had been a useful piece of furniture … storing all sorts and “preshishes” as the children grew from toddlers to teenagers.

Now that she was alone, her husband had died peacefully, the children with their own families … occasionally she had been entrusted to look after the grandchildren … today had been one of those.

They had been playing around the desk – hers now … where she wrote her stories looking out over the garden, down the meadow to the brook and into the copse beyond – the sharp staccato ‘pop’ had made her realise the grandchildren had found something.

A hidden drawer had popped out so the desk could reveal its own story … this must, as the note told her, be Donna Marie Joseph, who had been buried in the wood a hundred years and two ago, after being killed on 15th February 1915 …

… and that: Donna loved the desk more than her brute of a husband … I had watched as the drunken rage ensued … she had hit her head on one of its corners …

… then he carried her down the garden far into the depths of the wood, where in due time her bones would be found … the War had come and intervened … her husband went to War, the house was let out …

I know the secret of this photo and note ... please God at the right time ... Donna will be found and given her due peace ... 

The village now has its answer to the sorry tale of a dead woman dumped in dank woodland without care or concern. 

Who was the person who wrote the note … we will never know, but they must have been a kindly soul to have tucked the note and photo into the hidden drawer … knowing one day the truth would be told.

She and the village would make sure Donna Marie Joseph would have a proper burial and peaceful resting place … looking towards the cottage where she, Donna, once lived in … and where the desk resided … it too would be at peace – its secret revealed.

She realised forensics would find out more details, and local records would help … but the most important thing she felt was that the desk had told her what had happened to Donna Marie … there was nothing else to do – except to say:

Rest In Peace Donna Marie Joseph

The next WEP challenge will be April 19th "Peace and Love" ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Bran Tub # 9: Boxty or Drop Scones ... or both ...

We will start with Drop Scones … these would be for tea … replenishing us kids after playing for hours in the garden …  a filler before supper later on …

Drop Scones definitely needing some butter

… small thickish pancakes drizzled with butter … leaving that to  soak through, while keeping warm in the bottom oven of the Aga, as more layers of scones were made …

Aga - our first one was like this ... 

I don’t remember adding extras – such as bacon, or fruits, or syrup … we had that (well the golden syrup) with Cornish Cream on Scones …

Boxty brought drop scones to the front of my memory bank … as I watched a Michael Portillo Great British Journey across Ireland recently.  When he attempted to make one: he made a horrible looking mess of a Boxty … ?!  it is meant to be of a smooth, fine grained consistency … but his was lumpy - an appropriate descriptive name: see below.


Boxty is the traditional Irish potato pancake – which came to the fore during the potato blight of the 1800s.

The Irish landscape of Connaght

In the 1840s the poor made up 75% of the Irish population of around nine million … and potatoes were eaten both by the Anglo-Irish gentry and the mass of the people – which was unusual … as the potato was shunned in Europe.

The potato had been introduced in the second half of the 16th C (1500s), initially as a garden crop, before it came to be the main food crop for the poor. 

Irish potatoes

As a food source, the potato is extremely valuable in terms of the amount of energy produced per unit area of crop and is a good source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin C when fresh.

Potatoes were widely cultivated, but especially by those at a subsistence level; the diet of this group in the 1840s depended mainly on potatoes supplemented with buttermilk.

Irish Lumpers for sale in Fortnum and Masons -
not where I thought I'd find Lumpers!

This over reliance on potatoes as a staple crop meant that the people of Ireland were vulnerable to poor potato harvests.  The first Great Famine of 1739 was the result of extreme cold weather …

…  but the famine of 1845 to 1849 was caused by potato blight that spread throughout the Irish crop of a single variety, the Lumper.  It was devastating to the population … many died.

A sort of similar raised bed of potatoes
to be found at North Carolina State Uni

The ‘Irish Lumper’ has been characterized as a “wet, nasty, knobbly old potato” … but has recently been reintroduced to schools in Ireland – as a project of historical education - they are being cultivated in raised garden beds, just as they used to be grown.

Boxty that formed the main meal for so many Irish peasants in the mid 1800s … had various regional names eg ‘poundy’ … but it is essential that it is of a fine consistency so make sure the raw potato is grated finely ... 

Mc Niffee's Bakery ... see link
Boxty, with a name like this has obviously been absorbed into local culture … and inspired folk rhymes, such as:

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Drop scone ready for turning
So much has changed in recent years … old folk rhymes being remembered, early recipes being re-invented, Irish cuisine making its mark …

… the popularity of Boxty has risen and will be seen in various guises at home or on menus … with modern flavourings to ‘tart up’ the “poor-house bread” … raising it from its early roots of necessity.

These would suit me - Smoked Salmon
and sour cream on Boxty

So who will have a drop scone tonight, or a Boxty supper … I have to say I love both … but the Boxty I’d be happy to eat would be more like a potato cake … with some extras of choice ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Ferroequinology … a new trading route …

Trains … ferroequinology the study of those rolling stock wagons or in old parlance ‘iron horses’ … raised its head in two ways … the incredible new silk route across China, Russia, Europe which now has a terminus in east London, at the Barking depot, Essex.

Stephenson's Rocket

The Trans-Siberian railway forms a key component of the Silk Road Economic Belt with its incredible coverage:

  • 70% of the world’s population
  • 75% of its energy resources
  • 70% of the Gross Domestic Product in the world

Then there are these inland harbours … but methinks this post will be about the ferroequinology aspect and one inland port that of Duisburg, Germany.

An example of an earlier 'old' silk route

I was staggered to read that a Chinese cargo train which had set out from Yiwu, famous as a commodities centre, south-west of Shanghai, arrived in London 16 - 18 days later, in about half the usual ship consignment time, and at half the estimated airfreight cost.

The average container ship can hold up to 19,224 twenty-foot containers on a large cargo vessel … but this train with 200 containers cannot match up, yet saves time, tends not to have delays, and costs less.   34 of the wagons, with 68 containers, were destined for London.

Spanish Tapas - ham, chorizo, wine, cheeses,
olive oil dip ... 

The wagons from different countries will not go back empty … from Madrid will go hams, chorizo, olive oil, cheeses, wine and from Germany and Belgium beer … Poland has speciality foods too …

Container Ship sparkling in the sun in a
shipping lane in the English Channel

Ships will still be used for larger and heavier goods – so the high seas will still be traversed.  ‘Our’ train brought in socks, garments, bags and suitcases, or similar items – return products will be of local origin … 

There seem to be various routes being tested … this train travelled 7,500 miles, through seven countries, had to unload and re-load where the varying rail gauges on Russian lines didn’t match. 

Some basic facts provided by This Is Money

Different rail gauges used across the world:
the blue is the standard gauge

The UK’s containers were unloaded in Duisburg, before being transferred for the last leg under the Channel and into Barking, East London.  Duisburg has reinvented itself as an inland container port … the world’s largest inland harbour … see link to Railway Gazette

This is an American train - but they are
experimenting with trains 3.5 miles long?!

… and provides the specially approved cargo container wagons,  for the last part of the rail trip via the Channel Tunnel … so we can get our consignment of household products into the UK.

Sculpture of a ferro equine:
c/o Thoro Edge Equine

A silk, or sock, route reinvented … I certainly hadn’t thought we would be importing goods via a rail network – we are an island after all – or so I believed! …

Extraordinary world we live in … there are 39 routes linking 16 Chinese cities to 12 European ones, including Hamburg and Madrid, as well as London.

J M W Turner's 1844 painting:
"Rain, Steam and Speed"
Ferroequinology is a winner … just the thought of this journey bemuses me … what would JMW Turner, the artist with his “Rain, Steam and Speed – the Great Western Railway”(1844), have thought of it … and it was only 8 years ago that container ships were being moth-balled in deep water ports due to the global economic crisis …

This print shows the Rainhill Trials of 1829

Here’s to the new silk route … and these silk routes will be spun and spun … which could lead to a number of global shortages … if most of our commodities are off to China … as we recently had with chocolate … it is an interesting world at the moment.

A ferroequinologist's delight ... trains from here to China!

Please see my earlier post on the Get Up and Push Railroad - where the term ferroequinology came to light ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher 
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Herbs, Spices and Herbalists - Paprika: Part 6 ...

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s second book of his trilogy: 

“A Time of Gifts”, 
“Between the Woods and Water”, and 
“The Broken Road” 

Between the Woods and
Water - by Patrick
Leigh Fermor
... reminded me about Paprika … bringing back those memories of Hungarian goulashes often served or created in the 1960s …

… but the descriptive passages Fermor uses, as he traverses and stays in the Great Plain of Hungary, brought the rich haze of summer to mind:

Hungarian Peppers air drying

The summer solstice was past, peonies and lilac had both vanished, cuckoos had changed their tune and were making ready to fly.  Roast corn-cobs came and trout from the mountains; cherries, then strawberries, apricots and peaches, and, finally, wonderful melons and raspberries.  

The scarlet blaze of paprika …”

Szeged is just below the "Y" of Hungary;
Kalocsa (not shown) is about where the
"A" of Hungary appears.

Szeged and Kalocsa are two of the main towns in the southern part of the Great Plain ... while the Paprika Museum in Kalocsa records Capsicum’s history …

… I have to say I thought Paprika originally came from Hungary … but no – originating in south - middle America, it is thought the Spanish Conquistadores brought the plant over… capsicum acclimatised very quickly and was first used as a decorative plant.

The Carpathian Mountains surround
the Great Plain of Slovakia, Hungary, Romania
and Ukraine: the Danube and its main
tributaries run through it ... 

Similarly to my post on Marzipan – the trading routes played their part in its dispersal across Europe, along the Mediterranean, through Africa, Persia and north into the Great Plains of Hungary via the Danube River with the Turkish expansionists … which led us to those Great Plains which Fermor describes so evocatively. 

Capsicum a member of the Nightshade family … has many varieties in hues of gold, vivid greens, amber, vermillion or chili red … the early herbalists realised the medicinal values … a fine natural body purifier and internal disinfectant … while a variety of other remedies are being researched.

Peppers are hugely nutritious … they have more Vitamin C than an orange, and have relatively high amounts of Vitamins B6 and A.  These contain 94% water, but once dried they have different nutritional values.

Dried Paprika

Pungency varies – the Mexican - American types tend to be spicier: the chili cayenne types - while the Hungarian/Spanish Paprika is made from the milder, pointed-shape paprika fruit.

Hungarian sausages and hams

Hungarian and Spanish peppers are dried and ground, or used as vegetables or in salads … added to stews, sauces and now ubiquitously added to all manner of produce – particularly sausages (Spanish Chorizo … pork, sweet paprika and garlic, then cured).

Hungarian Veal Paprika with Nokedli
from Crumbs and Tales

Hungarian paprika veal … I’m sure I made this back then!  Delicious … fillets of veal, dipped in seasoned flour, lightly fried – remove meat and keep hot.  Mix paprika to taste with some soured cream and add to pan, stir in gently … and replace the meat.  Simmer gently and serve with new potatoes, nokedli (dumplings) or rice, green vegetables etc …

Hungarian Goulash
Szegedin Goulash

Hungarian goulash – where paprika is an essential ingredient – uses cubed beef, onions, tomatoes and small potatoes … brown meat and onion, add seasoning of paprika and garlic, salt, tomatoes … add in small potatoes and gently simmer … making a meal for friends and family, or a smaller pot … serve with sour cream ... 

Remember when using paprika that it has a high sugar content and burns easily …  so do not cook over a high heat for too long, and make sure there’s some liquid in your dish.

Bell Peppers with almonds, add in
some garlic, seasoning and whizz
with oil ... Romesco sauce

There are so many varieties of the capsicum plant that are necessary for particular sauces … eg Romesco Sauce - while for now I’ll leave the cayenne/chili cultivars for another post, together with the fabled Scoville scale.

Paprica Museum in Kalocsa: see here
for more information on the museum

The black pepper, some of us use so liberally, is not related to the capsicum … pepper nigrum is native to south India … and has a different botanical relationship to that of capsicum or to Sichuan pepper.  The generic name “pepper” probably comes from the Greek word kapto ‘to gulp’ … that makes sense?

To tempt you further ... a delicious range of wines,
fruits and dishes from Hungary
Hungarian Cuisine from Globe Centre Travel

This wonderfully useful ancestral spice has been used for generations … so encourage your family and friends to include some in their diet … though be aware, that some people may be allergic to them … but certainly for me I can see the benefits …

… and will continue to enjoy my peppers as a vegetable or in my salads … so many ways to use them …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories