Tuesday 28 February 2017

Shrovetide …

At the moment we have an exhibition at the Royal Academy entitled “Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932” which is being widely marketed.

Shrovetide (1916) by Boris Kustodiev

So seeing Wikipedia’s picture of the day 12th February 2017 caused me to take note more intently and look further than I might otherwise have done.

This quick search gave me the content for this post … with a few creative additions … who could not resist Boris Kustodiev’s (1878 – 1927) “Shrovetide” painting and want to know more … ?

Maslenitsa (1878) by
Leonid Solomatkin
… I had never heard of ‘Maslenitsa’ or the last week of Shrovetide … an Eastern Slavic (particularly Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian) religious and folk holiday celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, also known as Butter Week, Crepe Week, or Cheesefare Week … of as you might expect pagan tradition.

Then the next link on Kustodiev’s art work is to Shrovetide – hence the title of the post … here we learn more of the Christian pre-Lenten Season. 

Shrove Tuesday: Pieter Brueghel the Elder,
"The Fight Between Carnival and Lent" (1559)
To many of us this means pancake day … the last day before Lent and Ash Wednesday (tomorrow) when we keep to a fast … in today’s age we are meant to eat frugally … but in earlier times the extras were meant to be used up: so having lots of pancakes helped the extra milk, butter, flour, sugar, eggs to go down … the larder is now sparse … until Easter – six weeks hence.

Kustodiev- a self-portrait (1912)

So this one Wiki picture of the day introduced me to a Russian artist – Kustodiev, who has a fascinating history (do read – positivity here for all his challenges) … while his paintings totally enamour me, and I hope you.

Gave me and you a post on folk traditions of Maslenitsa (Butter Week) … also very well worth reading, with some other amazing artists being shown.

A Polish priest sprinkling ashes
on the heads of worshippers

Then Shrovetide is our last day of feasting before Ash Wednesday tomorrow … when fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance are followed at the beginning of Lent.

Many are not so disciplined now-a-days … but it is good to remember the days of the past and the reasons for these religious seasonal occasions.

English pancakes with sugar and lemon

So if you are having pancakes – do enjoy them, remember our ancestors with their practices, and perhaps learn a little more about some artists, Ukrainian and Russian folklore …

… and if you are living in medieval times … then this is the required day for confessing our sins … or if you live in the Netherlands it is the Dutch tradition to eat salted herring on Ash Wednesday to conclude the Carnival …

English scones with Cornish Cream
and Strawberry Jam

It is also a time to make us think … as well as to enjoy our English pancakes, English scones, Scottish drop scones, latkes or boxty (in famine times made very simply with raw grated potato) … different names for ‘similar’ items … per my previous post on Boxty ... 

Happy Pancake Day and take time to appreciate Kustodiev's paintings ...  this page will take you to the others mentioned.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

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" ... 

Postscript:  To my surprise I came across an article about a secret drawer in an 18thC bureau ... the walnut veneered pine bureau from Agatha Christie's Devon home had been bought anonymously at auction in 2006.

When her play The Mousetrap broke the record for the longest-running West End show in 1957, Noel Coward had sent his congratulations from Bermuda, "much as it pains me" - his own play, Blithe Spirit, was the previous record-holder.

With the telegram, found in the bureau, was a receipted bill for "ladies' delicates" - or lingerie - bought by Christie in 1952 for £24.13s.6d, about £560 in today's money.

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