WOW~ Word of the Week ~ Prigstar

WOW~ Word of the Week ~ Prigstar

“A girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then.”
Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

This is such a great line, for all that it’s an awful sentiment, especially one coming from your father. But on this St. Valentine’s Day – which has its own twisted history – I thought it interesting to examine two of the more famous infamous love stories where rivalries were involved.

Prigstar

A rival in love.

The Abduction of Helen by Luca Giordano (1632-1705) from the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Helen and Paris (and King Menelaus)

In Green mythology, Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world (the face that launched a thousand ships, according to the line from the poem of the same name, from playwright Christopher Marlowe; is that line a double entendre or figure of speech?). She was the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, but what’s a little matrimony to get in the way of true love, eh? When Trojan Prince Paris saw her, he had to have her, and they ran away – or he abducted her – the story is a bit fuzzy there.

As one would expect, Menelaus was none too pleased, and persuaded his brother, King Agamemnon of Mycenae, to form a king-size army to lay siege to Troy for the rescue of the fair Helen. Ten years, all the big names in fighting (Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Hector, and various gods and goddesses), and some wicked battle strategy (remember the Trojan Horse?) eventually resulted in a Greek victory. The price was steep, however, as all the aforementioned soldiers, save Odysseus, were slain; it took another ten years for Odysseus to reach home, and his journey was full of peril.

So what of Paris and Helen? Paris was not a central figure in the war he caused. He died late in the war from an arguably lucky shot from Greek Philoctetes. The remaining residents of Troy, or Troas, had no interest in harboring Helen. She was returned to her husband, who took her back to Sparta, the journey of which took eight years thanks to those pesky gods that were pro-Troy, and caused them to blow off course past Crete all the way to Egypt.

Cleopatra and Mark Antony (and Julius Caesar)

The Meeting between Cleopatra and Octavian after the Battle of Actium, 1787-1788, by Louis Gauffier (1761-1801), National Galleries of Scotland.

She would be the last pharaoh of Egypt, the end of the Macedonian-Greek-Ptolemaic Dynasty that had ruled since the death of Alexander the Great. She was described as passionate, beautiful, intellectual, and authoritarian. They were Roman generals who seized power by force rather than birthright, were driven to expand the Empire at all costs, and had Egypt firmly in their sights.

Egypt had been weakened by Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, who had given so much power and money to Rome in effort to bolster his claim as pharaoh (he was the illegitimate son) that he defined the term figure-head. Rome pretended to care but really only smelled blood in the Mediterranean. Upon his death and 18-year-old Cleopatra’s ascension to co-regency with her 10-year-old brother (and husband; gotta love those Ptolemaic Egyptians), she discovered economic failure, famine, and crippling debt. Her brother/husband opted for a power play and declared himself sole ruler, but countered with one of her own – seeking Rome’s help but on her terms – and left her brother in her dust. And Caesar just happened to be in Alexandria.

“[Cleopatra] embarked in a little skiff and landed at the palace when it was already getting dark; and as it was impossible to escape notice otherwise, she stretched herself at full length inside a bed-sack, while Apollodorus [her servant] tied the bed-sack up with a cord and carried it indoors to Caesar.”

Caesar, thirty years her senior, was sold. Cleopatra’s brother/husband, the following morning, was outmaneuvered. Although she was declared a traitor and the Egyptian army dispatched to attack, Caesar’s considerably larger army arrived from Syria, soundly defeating the young Ptolemy. She was even pregnant with the heir to the Roman ruler. Game, set, and match.

Except that Caesar gave her to her other brother, the 12-year-old Ptolemy XIV, declaring him her new co-ruler and future husband. Ever wily, Cleopatra followed Caesar to Rome and gave birth to Ptolemy Caesar, known as Caesarion (little Caesar). Romans were not impressed; their ruler had no legitimate heirs with his legitimate wife and an illegitimate one from a decadent country was not looked upon favorably in their so-called civilized land.

When Caesar named Octavian his heir, then followed this up by being assassinated, Cleopatra grabbed her “little Caesar” and fled back to Egypt. But the assassination didn’t settle the unrest in Rome, and Octavian had to assert his right to rule against an upstart General: Mark Antony. After years of fighting, the empire was split into east and west, and both needed funds. Antony looked to the south – to Egypt – for his coins. Cleopatra knew Antony from her time in Rome… and knew he was coming to her land.

In Plutarch’s words: “[Cleopatra] came sailing up the River Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her.”

The queen knew how to make an entrance and impression, and just as his Caesar had been before him, Antony was ensnared. He abandoned his plans for funds for his schemes back in Europe and settled in for a long stay with his new paramour. Cleopatra, for her part, used Antony to rid her of her last enemy – her sister, Arsinoe. In the battle between Cleopatra, Caesar, and her first brother/husband Ptolemy XIII, Arsinoe had sided with their brother, and had been banished to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. As a token of his love/obsession, Antony had Arsinoe dispatched on the temple steps. Cleopatra, as a token of her appreciation, gave birth to his twins the following year.

A few more deaths, a divorce, and an incestuous marriage take place, but the end is pure Shakespeare. All pretense of détente gone, it was all out war. Antony and Cleopatra met Octavian’s forces in the great but disastrous sea battle at Actium in 31BC, the beginning of the end for the lovers. Antony’s efforts to become the sole ruler of Rome were thoroughly defeated. Believing Cleopatra had allied herself with Octavian to ensure her own survival then committed suicide, he attempted to fall on his sword in true Roman tradition. He failed, and his wounded body was taken to his lover (see the painting at the beginning of this post). Cleopatra had been hiding in a mausoleum, which sounds so very ancient Egyptian for some reason.

There in the sepulcher, Antony succumbed to his wounds, allegedly dying in Cleopatra’s arms. Without the protection of Antony’s troops and now at Octavian’s mercy, she had to know capture meant humiliation at best, torture and execution at worst. The mighty, passionate, intellectual, and beautiful Egyptian pharaoh took her own life, reportedly by allowing a poisonous Egyptian cobra, or asp, to bite her.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Sweet Heart

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Sweet Heart

For all that we (and by we, I definitely mean me) think of Valentine’s Day as a holiday contrived by a conspiracy between greeting card and candy companies, it does date all the way back to Ancient Rome. I’ve posted about the History of Valentine’s Day before, so this time I thought to look more about the history of the eating surrounding the holiday. The slang term I found even hinted at the possibility of specific cakes made to commemorate the day.

But Google failed me.

With no idea exactly what a “sweet cake in the shape of a heart” could be, we can assume many cakes could be shaped in such a way. So what better time than to share some shapable recipes from the era, I ask you? Below are some I discovered which I think could have filled the mold.

Sweet Heart

A term applicable to either the masculine or feminine gender, signifying a girl’s lover, or a man’s mistress: derived from a sweet cake in the shape of a heart.

Banbury Cakes.

Banbury Cake recipe from The Jane Austen Centre.

 

Almond Cheesecake Recipe from The Jane Austen Centre.

 

Seedcake from Cooking in the Archives.

Mrs Berkers Receipt
To Make a seed Cake
Take a pound of Butter, wash it in Rose Water,
then work it with your hand till ’tis as thin as
Cream, then take a pound of flower well Dry’d,
and a pound of double refind sugar finely beaten
Two Ounces of Carraway Seeds, three thimbles
full of pounded mace, Mix all the dry things
together and put them by degrees into the
Butter then mix them well togather then beat
9 Eggs, half the Whites, and 3 or four spoonfuls
of Sack Put these into the other Ingredients, beat
it all well with your hands, having your Oven
ready put your Cake into the hoop and have
a double paper Butter’d to put over it if there
is Occasion
One hour will bake it.

Modern Recipe

INGREDIENTS

1 cup flour
7 teaspoons caraway seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon mace
1 stick butter, room temperature (8T)
1 teaspoon rosewater
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 eggs (1 whole, 2 whites separated from yolks)
1 tablespoon sherry

PREPARATION

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment. Stir together flour, caraway seeds, salt, and mace. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, rosewater, and sugar, either by hand or with a mixer. Stir in the whole egg and sherry, then add the flour and spice mixture. Set aside. Using a mixer, whisk the egg whites until they hold their form. Fold the whites into the cake batter very gently, maintaining the fluffiness of the whites even if it means the batter looks clumpy. Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Place it on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and set in the middle. A cake tester will come out clean when it is completely cooked. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the springform pan.

NOTES

Serve warm or room temperature with tea, coffee, fresh fruit, or preserves. This recipe is easy to double. You can also prepare smaller cakes by baking in a greased muffin pan and adjusting your baking time to 15 minutes.

 

Shrewsbury Cakes.

Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes

Our recipe (halved from the original)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 lb. sugar
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 lb. flour

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and mix at medium speed until the mixture looks curdled. Sift together dry ingredients and add at low speed until just combined. Scoop and roll the dough by hand into 1-tbsp. balls, then pat flat. [You could also refrigerate the dough until it’s firm enough to roll out on a flat surface and cut out into rounds.]

Bake at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) They’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

The Results

If you like snickerdoodles (and who doesn’t?), you’d like these. We added the cinnamon because we like it and couldn’t resist, and we thought it rounded out the mace nicely. These are mild, fairly soft cookies that are great with tea. We rolled and patted the dough into individual cookies because it was too soft and stick to roll out, but a little bit more flour and a stint in the fridge might make the dough easier to work with a rolling pin.

 

INGREDIENTS
1 lb sugar (2 cups)
1 lb butter, room temp.
1 lb flour, sifted with salt ((4 cups before sifting)
1 dozen egg (12-10 depends how hen is laying today!)
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon rind, grated

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven 325 degrees.
In mixing bowl cream butter and sugar.
Add 1 egg at a time, beating after each.
Gradually add sifted flour, 1/2 cup at a time, til all blended.
Add lemon juice and lemon rind, blend inches.
Pour into a buttered and floured tube pan.
Bake 1hr 15mins to 1hr 30mins; Til toothpick in center comes out clean.