27 December 2007

A Fillpot of Negus and Thou

I have been trying (rather desperately) to get myself in a more seasonal mindset by listening to Christmas-y audiobooks. I dabbled a little with folksy Lake Wobegon Christmases (A Prairie Home Christmas and Now It Is Christmas Again) then moved South (Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews) before jumping across the pond (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).

Whenever I read (or listen to) a historical novel I find myself always puzzling over trivia. While A Christmas Carol is a ripping tale and Jim Dale is a pleasure to listen to, I found myself increasingly distracted by pesky little question like "What kind of game is snap dragon?" or "What’s a smoking bishop made of?" and "What the heck is negus when it's at home?"

Smoking bishop, in particular, caught my fancy -- I imagined a group of fat old barristers (their buttoned waistcoats straining over their bellies) with hands full of smoking pipes and Toby jugs of some hot steaming toddy while they gossiped around a pub fire. The jugs, of course, would be shaped like fat little bishops. It was a pleasant image, if completely unlikely.

Thanks to the Guardian's "Booze by Boz" post, I now have a nice little recipe for smoking bishop and also know that it's pretty much mulled wine. Not particularly exciting, but there it is. There's also a decent sounding recipe for it over at Recipezaar which omits the grapefruit juice and suggestions posh additions such as cinnamon sticks and star anise.


Now, snapdragon? Gerard and Patricia Del Re’s The Christmas Almanack (Doubleday: 1979) tells me this about snapdragon:

This was once a very popular game played at Christmas in England. Raisins were placed in a bowl and covered with brandy, which was set ablaze. The object was to snatch the raising out of the fire and pop them in your mouth before the flames did too much damage. There was probably very little flavor left in the burned and shriveled raisins, but the danger and daring made a great sauce, and snapdragon was popular for many years before dying out in our own practical century [19th].

Ah, to live back in the good old days when unburnt fingers were grand entertainment!

And negus? Mysterious negus consumed with cake and cold roast? Negus is, according to Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (available online at mrsbeeton.com or through Project Gutenburg), a hot mulled fortified wine like port or sherry. While this beverage sounds rather potent to an infrequent tippler like me, it was often served to Victorian children:

Mode. -- As this beverage is more usually drunk at children’s parties than at any other, the wine need not be very old or expensive for the purpose, a new fruity wine answering very well for it. Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to 1/4 lb.) on the lemon-rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice, and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use. Negus may also be made of sherry, or any other sweet white wine, but is more usually made of port than of any other beverage.

Sufficient -- Allow 1 pint of wine, with the other ingredients in proportion, for a party of 9 or 10 children.


13 December 2007

Omg!! The Blue Sword!! Omg!! Squee!!!

I was browsing November’s issue of Paperclips, happily initialing off all the fantasy and romance paperbacks I think I my patrons would like to read when I came across a reprint of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley:

Harry Crewe, the Homelander, bored with her sheltered life as an orphaned girl in the remote orange-growing colony of Daria, discovers her own magical gifts when she is kidnapped by a native king with mysterious powers and is transformed into Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, the heir to Gonturan, the mystical Blue Sword once wielded by the Lady Aerin herself. A Newbery Honor book.

Oh, did the fangirl in me ever go squee! (Omg!! The Blue Sword!! Omg!! Squee!!!) Completely mortifying, but true. The Blue Sword rocked my world when I was a disenfranchised ninth grader. Harimad-sol? Total girl crush. A clever girl stifled by society and then plunged unwillingly into a foreign culture, given a magic sword and romantically entangled with someone perplexing? Oh, yes! The novel had everything that was likely to appeal to me at fourteen (or thirty-one). I must have read the book three times that year alone and when I discovered there was a companion novel (The Hero and the Crown), I was over the moon.

Seriously, I loved The Blue Sword so much that I more-or-less stole it from my English teacher’s class room. I had borrowed it from her small and neglected lending library around Easter of my freshman year and then “forgot” to bring it back before school ended. And I didn’t bring it back the following autumn, either. It lived under my bed, much dog-eared from midnight readings, until I went away to college. I have it still, but it lives on a proper bookshelf amongst all my other McKinley books and I don’t engage in midnight readings, anymore.

(It’s not really as if I have to read it -- I just need to glance at the pages to prompt my memory).