Friday, 9 October 2015

Clarence Birdseye and that ubiquitous fish finger …

What a lovely name Clarence has … and he is Birdseye the second … his father being the first Clarence Frank Birdseye – however the second was the inventor, entrepreneur and naturalist, who became credited as being the founder of the modern frozen food industry.

Clarence Birdseye
Birdseye (1886 – 1956) was born in Brooklyn and began his career as a taxidermist, travelling as an ‘assistant naturalist’ to places in the States.  He was sent off in 1912 to Labrador, Canada, where he became interested in food preservation by freezing, especially fast freezing.

An illustration of ice-fishing
in Norway (c 1904)

He was taught by the Inuit how to ice-fish under very thick ice.  
In -40 Deg C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh.  He also noted that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of a lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador … he set about applying his knowledge.

Traditional Qamutik (sled)
of the Inuit

He established his own company, which he sold, with his patents, for $22 million to Goldman Sachs and what was to become General Foods in 1929 – he continued to work with the company. 

Captain Birds Eye and packet of fish fingers.

They then founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company.  Who would have thought that the name 'Birdseye' would become the name of a corporation.

This is a Bird's Eye to me!
In the UK after WWII there was an abundance of herring from which Clarence Birdseye made herring fish fingers.  To test the market he produced a control product made from cod:  so we had “herring savouries” v “cod sticks” – the public chose the cod … which confounded the company’s expectations. 

Fish fingers, tomato sauce and chips

Here endeth the tale of how fish fingers came about in the UK …. which still confounds the experts as being the most popular frozen food purchased, cooked and eaten …

Goujons with tartare sauce

… so much so that it’s gone upmarket appearing as ‘goujons’ – a somewhat more delicate way of serving bread-crumbed fish.

The original Capn ... and a new actor
We had a tv ad here in the 1960s promoting fish fingers by Captain Birds Eye – played by John Hewer … the 50 or more ads were incredibly successful, playing in seven languages and 15 countries.

The Captain was killed off … ‘life slipped through his fingers’ – prompting an obituary in The Times in June 1971.

Labrador, where the concept all began

It didn’t last long … he was re-instated in 1974 – with another notice in The Times: ‘Birds Eye, Captain.  Now returned to these shores, a revitalised man.  Wishes to deny premature reports of his demise previously recorded in these columns.  Will shortly address the nation …’

There have been other changes – but the fish finger will live on … they are tasty, nutritious, quick and convenient … and provide protein, fish and probably tomato sauce for your youngsters (or oldies!).  We eat apparently 1.5 million of them every day …

Fish Fingers for the adults

Here’s to you Mr Clarence Frank Birdseye for your foresight of bringing frozen food to the masses … I can’t say I have eaten very many in my lifetime … very probably less than 200, maybe even fewer … I do eat fish cakes occasionally.

I’d better post this on a Friday!

The idea for this post came from some information found in the Waitrose Weekend magazine.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 5 October 2015

William Burchell - Explorer and Botanist ...

Zebras always entice us to look at their sleek bodies, and those stripes – all unique.  My love of South Africa and how I am always drawn to the country of Africa and to history … led to this post.

Burchell's Zebra
Asbestos Mountains came to the fore when I was looking at the mineral asbestos for my post on Heather’s terrible condition (Mesothelioma) … and I noted the explorer whose name is linked to the Burchell Zebra.

Fulham Palace entrance

William John Burchell (1781 – 1863) was an English explorer, naturalist, traveller, artist and author … he was the son of a botanist, who owned Fulham Nursery adjacent to the gardens of the medieval Fulham Palace (the early residences of Bishops of London (11th C until 1975)) which still has an extensive botanical garden. 

Glasshouses in Fulham Palace Garden
Burchell initially took up botany serving an apprenticeship at Kew – however love intervened, but ... he was sent off by his disapproving parents to St Helena … a long way to be exiled for love!

After arrival and some years, he took advice and set off to the Cape to add to his botanical collection, travelling in South Africa between 1810 and 1815, collecting over 50,000 specimens while exploring unknown tracts of land.

Namibian stamp for a postcard in 2007
featuring Burchell's Zebra

He also spent five years in Brazil between 1825 and 1830 – again collecting and recording everything of interest.

Burchell's Coucal - a species
of cuckoo

His extensive African collections included plants, animal skins, skeletons, insects, seeds, bulbs and fish; the bulk of his plant specimens went to Kew, with the Brazilian insects to Oxford University Museum.

Burchell's Bubalina - wild
pomegranate image from Curtis's
Botanical magazine - first published
in 1787 and still going today

He was such a great observer, detailing the habit and habitat, as well as all his drawings and paintings as he went along – in 1819 he was questioned by Parliament about the suitability of South Africa for emigration … the 1820 Settlers followed a year later.

Eciton Burchellii army ant from Brazil
with the characteristically shaped

His journals and notebooks survive in Kew, those of his Brazil expedition are missing, as are his diaries relating to his later travels: a man of passion, patience, observation, scholarship and experimentation who was a natural Naturalist – a man trained with an inquiring mind … thank goodness for them and the early information they have left us.

Burchell’s Zebra is extantthe Quagga is extinct

The moose is extant - the Dodo is extinct

Extinct is dead as a Dodo!

Burchelll's drawing of the Asbestos Mountains

Extant, per the Oxford Dictionaries, means it is still in existence, surviving, not necessarily alive … Neontology is the study of extant taxa – where species, genera and families, whose members are still alive, such as Burchell’s Zebra and the Moose.

Descending from the Sneeuberge, Graaff-Reinet
painted by Burchell (1812)
The reason that Neontology has got in here … is that Stephen Jay Gould the palaeontologist coined the word Neontologist  - and guess what disease he had – yes: Mesothelioma – but he eventually succumbed to another cancer, not linked.  He lived for 20 years after his diagnosis … that’s quite a long time for someone with Mesothelioma.

Burchell's route

This post could have got more convoluted as I found other interesting links … but we can find subjects to post about all over the place …

The wagon commissioned by
Burchell for his expeditions

So I hope you enjoyed travelling along the dotted path to South Africa, from Fulham, via St Helena, then on to Brazil and back to the archives at Kew and Oxford …

… all arising from the Asbestos Mountains found by the Botanist William Burchell – who had these wonderful creatures named after him.

In the comments I've been asked about 'extant' ... and perhaps this Chicago Tribune article explains it for anyone interested:  

Scientists hope to resurrect long-extinct cousin to the zebra

Heather von St James, who is raising awareness of the disease she suffers from - please read:

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Carpaccio – artist or food?

How the word Carpaccio became a food …

Carpaccio of beef with capers, parmesan
slithers and rocket
Carpaccio is the international name of a typical Italian dish made with raw beef, served with a sprinkling of olive oil, shaved parmesan, a light, green salad and some lemon … 

... it was so named after Vittore Carpaccio a Venetian painter, who studied under Gentile Bellini (brother of the more well-known Giovanni Bellini) in the late 13th to early 14th centuries.

The vision of  St Augustine (1502) 
How do these connections come about?  In the 1960s a doctor recommended that one of his patients, a Countess, should eat raw meat to improve her health … Guiseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, invented and popularised the dish for her. 

The Virgin Reading
(1505 - 1510)

What to name it? – easy … the dish was named after an exhibition being held in Venice at the time, 1963, dedicated to Vittore Carpaccio. 

Portrait of the Doge
Leonardo Loredan (1510)

The Venetian painter is known for the characteristic red and white tones of his work … and Cipriani had based the dish on the Piedmont speciality carna cruda all’albese … so carpaccio, usually served as an appetiser, came into the language of cuisine, and continues to feature in many a restaurant.

A platter of antipasti
 I often choose it when we go out … and do love it for its simplicity and freshness of taste.  A dish of very thinly sliced raw meat, fish or vegetables (usually seasoned with lemon, olive oil, freshly ground pepper and shavings of parmesan, or pecorino) served on a bed of rocket, or rucola, with some French bread; or here as an antipasto.

The well-stocked kitchen by the
Flemish painter Joachim Beuckelaer

I have also learnt about Vittore Carpaccio, whom I had not heard of before, an artist influenced by the style of Early Netherlandish art and who became recognised as one of the early masters of the Venetian Renaissance.

Language is a wonderful teacher of etymology and of history – I certainly had no idea that one of my choices in a restaurant had been named after a Renaissance artist.

Served with lemon, olive oil and shavings
of Parmesan or white truffle

Vittore Carpaccio (1465 - 1525/6) is not very well known today – but his works live on in Venice, and now I have an extra snippet to educate my fellow diners!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Mesothelioma Awareness Day - Heather Von St James who lives on with the silent killer of Steve McQueen ...

Who would think this vibrant looking woman has a life-threatening disease … her story is well worth a read and will give us all a greater understanding into Asbestos Induced Diseases.

Mesothelioma is rare … but there have been a few notable patients (c/o Wiki) … Steve McQueen, the well-known actor, was diagnosed after perhaps being exposed in the US Marines, or from the insulating material in the racing suits the drivers wore.

As Heather explains so poignantly, hers came about because she loved her father and wrapped herself up in his jacket when she was a youngster and he was home.  It manifested itself over 25 years …

Asbestos Mountains as drawn by William Burchell

I hope that you will read more of her journey at Mason’s post (and all the other participants) and particularly Heather’s own.

Blogging as we all know opens our eyes to so many things – we learn so much – and this is another facet … an appreciation of others’ illnesses and the conditions they have to cope with.

Fibrous Tremolite Asbestos
on Muscovite

We can get inspiration and admiration from their stories and raise awareness that each and everyone of us can be kind, considerate and thoughtful to others: we don’t know what’s going on – there could be a ‘Heather Journey’.

I gasp and cry as I read of people with major illness and of their families who remain positive, and intend to live their life to fulfilment – completely and utterly …

… this has to help with the future memories – of how they and their families never let the disease stop them – and how their get and go attitude gives impetus to Awareness days and sends out threads of knowledge to more of us.
Heather and Cameron

I wish Heather and her family all the very best and express my admiration for them … long may she live, before her inspirationally moving legacy kicks in.

Here is Heather’s site - and there is an amazing video by Heather, her husband and daughter ... very well worth a watch.

Our UK site gives a good overview – politics intervenes – I won’t pass my comment … but I am interested in seeing the narrative.  From this site can be found links to the Australian, Canadian and South African sites – while the main .com is the American web page.

Cameron, Lily Rose and Heather

So please spread Awareness of Mesothelioma to all who might be interested or need to be made aware of the disease.  It is a hidden killer …

Here is Heather’s wonderful blog post that puts “TheImportance of Support” into context … I can relate to this and can definitely think of another disease that took a small life, where this post totally resonates.

Please support Heather – you know I’m not good with social media aspects – but please all of you who are ‘experts: poor or good!’ … do what you can to spread the word.

Thank you,

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 21 September 2015

Canterbury Cathedral Scaffold tour ….

Guess what … my hip and I, eight months on, happily hopped up and down the scaffolding by ladder … builders’ ladders … metal and narrow … I had no idea what we were going to do ... but it seemed a wonderful opportunity not to be missed.

Medieval Gatehouse into the
Cathedral precincts

I had seen an advert for The Great South Window – a high level highlights tour with a look behind the scenes at the conservation aspects … and as I’d been to see the earlier Exhibition of the Ancestors at the Cathedral, as well as posting, in 2013, about the windows' travels to the Getty Museum, Los Angeles before moving to the Cloisters Museum in New York – I knew I had to go across for the tour.

The scaffolding outside, which led to the working
area at window height, which gave us access to the repairs,
the nave ceiling etc and views from the top.

The Cathedral is in the process of having a £50 million restoration facelift – cleaning and repairing the stonework, repairing and replacing the leaded roof … what has been done looks absolutely stunning … and will continue until 2021 – as the Cathedral needs to be secure for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

When a lump of tracery fell off the Great South Window in 2009 – it was a dramatic indication that urgent repair was needed.

Showing stone tracery - not one of my photos
and not of Canterbury.

Cracks were discovered in the tracery stone work surrounding the 12th century stained glass panels forcing the specialists to add this urgent job to their ‘to do’ list and delay other planned projects.

Cherry picker installing
scaffolding inside the Nave
courtesy Canterbury Trust

The foremost project was to provide a safe frame for the 12th century glass … the Window became a sandwich filling between scaffolding outside and in, so more stone-work didn’t crash down … and the precious windows could be removed for repair, storage and study.

Our group of about 18 duly met and off we went to the drawing office … where the stone mason template-maker draws all the templates that the masons have to adhere to exactly in order for the replacement stones to fit: talk about a jigsaw of all jigsaws!

The piece of tracery that fell off - we were in
the Drawing and Design office here c/o Martin Crowther

We learnt so much … but here I can only give you a sampling of an inkling of the work that’s involved.  At the end I’ll leave you with some other links to look at … which give you a flavour of the intricacies of a project like this.

Heather, the Head of Stone Masonry and Conservation, who took us round, explained that as Canterbury is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England, forms part of a World Heritage Site and where the Archbishop is the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion …

One of the cracks being prepared
for repair

… it was essential that all agencies were duly consulted on the proposed works etc … so the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was brought in to ensure the experts’ opinions lined up.

Some basic information on the Cathedral and the Window:

Up the ladders we went
St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, started to build the original place of worship in 597 AD … which now lies beneath the floor of the Nave.  Over the centuries it was rebuilt, refurbished, added to … while retaining some of those early features and buildings. 

As a note in the early days foundations were not laid … hence inevitably over time there has been some movement and settlement in the structure.

The Great South Window in
2006 - before it was known it was
in dire need of repair

The Great South Window was built in the 1420s in the Perpendicular Gothic architectural style.  Its dimensions are huge: 16.76m (55 feet) high, and 7.56m (24 feet 9 inches) wide.  The window held and will hold priceless stained glass from late 12th and early 13th centuries.

Why did the window fail?  As they say it’s complicated!  Over time, this part of the building has tilted slightly, tipping the window forward and sideways, making it unstable. 

Early Industrial Revolution iron bars
that corroded

The medieval builders had allowed for movement in the stone work, leaded glass and timbers – but when the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian ‘experts’ came along – their ideas and repair methods were not empathetic to the ancient materials … hence the damage being found today.

After we had been into the Design and Drawing office we put on hard hats, many of us! were glad of these, and made up our way up the scaffolding ladders … while being shown various aspects of the Conservation work being carried out.

Zorobel - a biblical figure; one of the
Ancestors of Christ - dated 1180
- that was being cleaned, repaired and restored

Then we were shown into the Glass Conservators' workroom where further intricacies were revealed to us ... we were shown the crud on the medieval glass and how it is so painstakingly removed and repairs made ...

The top right corner needing considerable repair ... 

… so much detail here that I cannot possibly give due justice to these oldest panels of stained glass in England and significant examples of what was at the time a relatively new art – monumental stained glass -  as well as the conservation work being done today.

The snippets that resonated with me are …

Caen limestone is still being used, but they had to source larger stone for the mullions from a site near Poitiers.

A new mullion installed; you can see the two slits for
the glass panes to be reinstated - the precious Ancestor Window,
and the new clear protective glass ... the system is very
high tech
A stonemason’s yard had been established about 40 years ago just outside the walls as a working site – the stone is always squared up by the supplier to minimise the amount of waste shipped.

The conservators have created a self-containing and up to 52 mm (2.05 inch) interspace cleaning system for the restored stained glass panels: this is very high tech.

The medieval Butchery Lane

The narrow medieval streets of the city make transport difficult … so stones are brought in a few at a time – preventing damage to both the stone and the medieval city. 

The town has had to retain fire engines with smaller dimensions, than our modern day ones, which can squeeze into the Cathedral grounds and surrounding streets.

Gargoyles towering out across the grounds, as well
as the city beyond

How knowledgeable those early craftsmen were … in being able to build Cathedrals, give all worshippers and visitors over the centuries that visual and cognitive impact of the stories they wanted told through their design and art work.

Here you can see the crud and the corrosive effects of
the centuries as they rolled by

Blue Tesserae from Roman and Greek times tends not to be found … as the medieval craftsmen crushed the tessera to extract the lapis lazuli … so it could be reused by their glaziers.

The Nave ceiling with its decorations

Yet how much in the 21st century we are realising that we need to continue researching to find out more, and to establish the best methods to protect the Cathedral with its stories and history.  This work will be accurately recorded for future generations of surveyors, specialists and conservators.

One of the gilded heads taking stock of the
stone masons at work

Apprenticeships are being made available by the Cathedral for ancient trades and crafts; local residents are being encouraged to get involved; the community and the authorities are all working with the Cathedral to ensure the Minster is secured for future generations.

The Welcome Centre - I loved the lead work

It really was a quite extraordinary day … I was bemused and in total admiration at the care and concern regarding all the research and work that went in to this amazing project as well as the intricacies of it all.  It was a privilege and a joy to see …

The Queen and Prince Philip statues - recently added
to match Victoria and Albert - outside the Nave
 at the west entrance

So much to tell you, so little space, such a muddled post ... but many more sensible details can be found in the links below:

This is tribute from the Surveyor of the Fabric ... it's a PDF but is fine ... and shows lots of interesting photos and gives more detail as to the work done, and the story of it all - well worth a read ... and is where you will find Heather's story ... fascinating tale and well worth a read.

This is an article from the Natural Stone Specialist about the Conservation of the Canterbury Great South Window - again such an interesting read.

View to the west across the city

2014 - The Cathedral's Projects and Priorities from Canterbury Cathedral's Trust's perspectives - it's also a PDF but it too is fine.

Two years ago, "Stories on Glass", after my visit to Durham Cathedral, the glass books and the story of Canterbury's Ancestors Windows going to Los Angeles and New York City ... 

Canterbury Cathedral before its
cloaking in scaffolding
... before I saw them in the Cathedral earlier in the year - this post gives a brief note of visitors being able to see the stained glass windows at ground level and not fifty feet up set into their limestone window frames.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories