Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Little Perry Never Hurt Anyone

My brother, Leon (who was one year older than me), and I enjoyed 'hanging out' at my paternal grandparents' house.

My grandfather, Eldon Smith (whom we called, Pap), would look at Leon, and say: "Hey Boy, hand me that newspaper over there." A little later on, I would be getting a drink of water at the kitchen sink. Pap would call out to me: "Hey Boy, take that cup up to the shed and get me some cider."

Now I should point out ~ neither I, nor my brother, was ever offended by the fact that Pap called me, and/or him by the common name of Boy. What might have angered someone else at Pap's use of the seemingly derogatory or condescending name was endearing to me and my brother. We actually laughed about it at times; we figured that he couldn't remember our names, and so he just used the name Boy for both of us. As the years passed, and long after Pap was laid to rest, Leon and I called each other "Boy", probably to the amusement of others hearing us.

In any case, this post wasn't just meant to be about my grandfather and what he called me. It actually was meant to be about perry - and its cousin, cider. (That explains the photo of pear blossoms at the top of this post.)

Most people are familiar with, and enjoy drinking, apple cider ~ especially in the Autumn, when fresh apples are harvested. What they might not be so familiar with, and perhaps have never even tried, is the same drink, albeit made with pears ~ perry. Whether to extend the amount of drink to be made from one's available harvest, or whether for the blended taste, pears might be added to the apples as they were being mashed into cider. But the pears, alone, would produce an enjoyable drink similar to cider.

Now, it's no secret that through the years since the Colonial Period, most cider was drunk in its hard form, meaning after it had fermented and become 'alcoholic'. Perry, made from pears, would also undergo fermentation due to the presence of lactic acid bacteria in the pears. In the 'old days', before the use of refrigerators to keep food and drinks cold ~or~ before liquids could be sealed in glass or metal containers to preserve their freshness, cider and perry was stored in wooden casks and barrels. The tannic acid in the wood of the barrel would encourage the fermentation

When my grandfather would take apples and pears to the press to have them mashed, he would obtain enough cider and perry to fill two large barrels ~ about twenty or thirty gallons worth. The two barrels would then last Pap and my grandmother through the whole winter and into the next spring and summer. The longer the cider lasted, the harder it got.

To return to something I noted above ~ When Pap would tell me to take the cup up to the shed to get him some cider, he would be referring to the tin cup that was kept on the kitchen sink. Everyone used that same cup when you wanted a drink of water ~ or cider. Of course, after using the cup you were expected to rinse it out. Anyways, when told to get him some cider, Pap was directing me to take the tin cup, and to go to the small shed beside the barn that stood on a slightly sloping hill ~ in which the barrels were kept ~ positioned on their sides and nestled on X-shaped cradles. On each barrel, a wooden spigot had been pounded into a bung hole. I'd hold the tin cup under the spigot and turn the 'handle', meaning I'd loosen the wooden stopper so that the cider or perry would flow through the spigot. I'd then carefully carry the cup full of cider down the slope of the hill to give to my waiting grandfather.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention ~ I usually stole a 'sip' out of the cup myself before taking it down to Pap. I thought I was getting away with something ~ because we kids were not supposed to drink the cider after it had turned hard ~ but I'm sure that Pap knew that I had taken a sip... Maybe that's why he would send me to get him a cup full instead of getting it himself.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's Springtime, And The Maples Are Blooming!

This post doesn't have anything to do with antiques or olden times. I just thought that I would share with you all something that is most often overlooked.

Did you ever hear the phrase: "You can't see the forest for the trees"? Well, in this case, you can't see the tree for the blossoms.

So, everyone in the United States is familiar with the beautiful pink cherry blossoms that line the tidal basin in the nation's capitol, Washington, D.C. But I would bet that most, if not all, of the readers of this blog have never seen a maple blossom. Yes, you heard, or rather read, correctly ~ maple blossom. You probably believed that when Spring is breaking out all over the place, that leaves just start to sprout all over the branches of maple trees, making them green all over. The fact of the matter is that before the leaves start to come out, the maple tree blooms in lime green blossoms.

The photos on this post show the maple tree in my yard completely covered in beautiful maple blossoms. Although all of the types of maples sprout blossoms in the Spring, the Norway Maple, which is the type shown here, seems to get the nicest blooms. One source told me that the "blossom" is actually called a cluster of staminate flowers.

Most people, even those who have maple trees growing in their own yards, never see the blossoms ~ mostly because they have never actually looked at that green stuff on the tree's branches. They probably think that any green color that they see would simply be leaves coming out. And, of course, if the blossoms were white or pink, they would be more noticeable, but being green, they do resemble leaves ~ especially if you see them as you are passing by at sixty miles-per-hour in a car. While it's Springtime, get outside and enjoy your maple trees while they are flowering!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

There's An Image In My Paper

Watermarks in paper are not the result of paper actually being marked by water. In fact, when a drop of water makes contact with a forming piece of paper, the resulting mark is considered an imperfection, and is known as a papermaker's tear (as in crying). So what's a true watermark?

If you are reading this post, you most surely know about the internet; and if you know about the internet, you possibly have heard about or seen watermarks.

Most people who have used the internet, at one point or another, will have seen an image (photo or text) with a word or logo in light grey superimposed over the image. The superimposed light grey word or logo allows the image to be viewable, but at the same time makes that image undesirable to be copied. Most people call those light grey words or logo images 'watermarks', but they are not true watermarks.
Those internet-based marks on images were given the name: watermarks, because, despite not being true watermarks, they function to provide security, which is one of the functions of a true watermark.

So we're back to the same question ~ what is a true watermark?

A watermark is an image, in the form of an individual design element, or of an overall pattern, created inside paper during the process of producing the paper. The watermark is created by causing certain areas of the pulp that makes up the paper to be thinner (or thicker) than the surrounding areas of the pulp. The watermark is normally viewed by backlighting the paper. All of the images in this post were photographed by allowing a light to shine through the paper. Hold any piece of recently printed U.S. dollar bills up to the light, and on the one side, seemingly inside the paper itself, you will see the image of the U.S. president, whose image is also included in the printed image. As light passes through watermarked papers, the areas in which the pulp was caused to be thinner will appear to be a bit lighter in shade as compared to the rest of the paper. Conversely, the areas in which the pulp was caused to be thicker will appear to be a bit darker in shade than the surrounding paper. This phenomenon is the result of variations in the opaqueness of the paper.

The watermark images displayed on this post were all created by the twisting and bending of a single strand of wire into an image, and then the attachment of the wire onto the wire mesh used in the process of making the paper. Since the strands of wire would cause the paper fibers to be thinner overtop them, the resulting lines of the watermark would be thinner, and appear white against the thicker paper 'background'.

The image created by the varying thickness in the paper itself is called a watermark merely because it is created in the paper while it still is (if ever so slightly) wet.

It is generally believed that the purpose of the watermark was originally to provide an identification of the paper manufacturer; it was essentially a signature mark. The purpose of the watermark today is primarily for security; a watermark verifies the authenticity of a document. If you get a paycheck from an employer, hold it up to the light, and you will probably see a watermark image in the paper. 

Watermarks are formed by impressing a three-dimensional image in the wire mesh on which the paper fibers are laid in the process of papermaking. As the water in the paper pulp drains through the wire mesh, the paper fibers that remain will be thinner where the impressed image was thicker and thicker where the impressed image was thinner. As the paper dries, the thicker and thinner areas remain, becoming the watermark.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Not to be morbid...but...I'd like to talk a little about palls.

I'm sure that just about everyone reading this post knows what a pall is. So for the one or two people who are unsure, I'll offer a few tidbits of information.

The primary definition is that a pall is a piece of cloth used to cover a casket during a funeral. A secondary definition is that a pall is a small, cloth covered square of card used in Catholic church services to cover a chalice holding the Eucharist. This post is concerned with the first definition.

The pall covering a funeral casket developed out of the funerary shroud, a piece of cloth used to cover an embalmed body of a deceased person during the Greek and Roman Classical Periods. (The most famous being the Shroud of Turin.) In fact, the name comes from the Latin word, pallium, meaning a "cloak". In a sense, the pall "cloaked" the casket. During the Medieval Ages and through the Renaissance, funeral palls took the form of lavishly embroidered cloths, often bearing the deceased person's armorial achievements as a design. After the deceased was laid to rest, the fancy palls might be retained by the surviving family members and used for wall hangings. As the centuries passed, the palls became solid black, known in Scotland as a mortcloth; eventually they were simple, solid white cloths, symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. In some cases even into modern times, the white cloth might be decorated with a cross in some color. And in some cases, such as in that of a military funeral, the national flag is utilized as the pall. The photo at the head of this post is of the pall used on the casket of my father, Bernard R. Smith. In a military funeral, the flag that is used as the pall is removed from the casket before the casket is lowered into the ground. The flag / pall is folded into a triangle and then presented to the surviving family members. In situations in which plain cloths are utilized for the pall, they are not presented, as a flag, to the surviving family, but instead retained and used in the funeral of other individuals.

The pall-bearers at a funeral are the persons who carry the casket from one point to another. In some cases, such as where the cemetery in which the deceased will be interred adjoins the church, the pall-bearers might carry the casket directly from the church to the cemetery plot. In other cases, such as where the memorial service is held at a location some distance away from the cemetery, the pall-bearers might simply carry the casket from the church to a hearse, and then from the hearse to the cemetery plot. And in effect removing the pall-bearers completely from the task for which they are named, a modern funeral might involve the pall-bearers simply walking behind the casket, which, being rested on a wheeled cart, may be pushed along by the funeral director.  In either situation, if there are certain individuals designated to bear the casket and others to bear the pall, suspended a few inches above the casket, the former are specifically called casket-bearers to differentiate them from the actual pall-bearers.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Whole Truth, And Nothing But...

The phrase: "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" is perhaps the most identified phrase heard in television court-room dramas and movies about court cases ~ that is, with the exception of "I object!" and "Sustained." Despite the fact that many people do not get into trouble themselves, forcing them to experience a trial in person, or have to serve on juries during their lifetimes, the phrase is well known. Not only is the phrase itself well known, but the fact that it's recitation is a standard element of every court case is also well known. Even people who have never set foot in a court of law seem to be aware that no court case (in the United States of America) will proceed until each and every witness is 'sworn in'.

The phrase apparently became popular on television court-room dramas from the sixties and seventies, ~ weekly night-time dramas such as Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr in the title role. It is probably safe to say that Perry Mason was the first dramatization of actual court-room proceedings that most people ever experienced. Perhaps many people think that the phrase was created by the writers of the Perry Mason show.

The fact of the matter is that the phrase was in use long before Perry Mason became a popular court-room drama. In fact, it was in existence long before there was television. The phrase was in use during the Colonial Period of United States history. On 30 June 1775, the delegates of the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia adopted a set of rules and regulations for their fledgling militia. Titled, Articles of War, the document consisted of sixty-nine articles by which the militia would be governed. Article #54 stated that "all persons called to give evidence, in any case, before a court-martial, who shall refuse to give evidence, shall be punished for such refusal at the discretion of such court-martial: The oath to be administered in the following form, viz."

"You swear the evidence you shall give in the case now in hearing, shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help you God."

I attempted to find evidence of the phrase from times before the Colonial Period, but was unsuccessful in my search. It may or may not have existed prior to that time. But what can be stated, with certainty, is that the court-room in which an attorney named Perry Mason practiced law was not the first to use the phrase.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Four And Twenty Blackbirds

Children growing up today ~ in fact children growing up through the last fifty years ~ have probably heard that children's rhyme and thought it was just silliness. Everyone knows that you don't bake birds, of any sort, whether blackbirds or ostriches, in pies. Pies contain apples or peaches or cherries or blueberries. Sometimes, if you're lucky and have a mommy who really loves you, you'll get a pie containing chocolate pudding with whipped meringue on top.

So why would a children's nursery rhyme speak about two dozen blackbirds (specifically, Turdus merula) being baked into a pie?

The nursery rhyme Sing A Song Of Sixpence was composed around the time of the Tudor monarchy in England. That was around the time that Henry the Eighth was king; and for those who don't know much about English history, that was during the 1500s. It has been claimed that the rhyme was a parody of the marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife.

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie is opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King?
The King was in his counting house counting out his money,
The Queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden hanging up the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

But to get back to pie... In the ancient world, the Greeks came up with the idea of the pastry shell, created by simply mixing water and flour. I'm not sure what they put into those pastry shells, or if they covered them with another layer of pastry. The first baked pies are known from the Roman world. Their ingredients included various types of meats and even seafood, but they also made a type of cheesecake for the dessert course. Pies spread throughout Europe, and it was found, during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, that pie ingredients remained fresh for a longer time than the ingredients themselves. The pie crust effectively functioned as a container that kept the air out and the freshness in. During the Medieval Age, pyes were most often comprised of beef, lamb, fowl, such as chicken or duck, and sometimes pigeon. So the baking of a blackbird in a pie really would not have been too unusual ~ with the exception that there would not have been much actual meat on the bones. (Maybe that's why so many were needed for one pie!)

In more recent decades, the pie made of mince meat (usually at Christmas-time) and the beef, chicken and turkey pies marketed as frozen food items are the only types of pies containing something other than fruit, preserves or pudding.

So when, after Easter, I had some green bean casserole left over, I decided to bake it into a pie. I placed a pastry crust in the glass

baking dish, filled it with the left-over green bean casserole, to which I added some extra mixed vegetables, cream of mushroom soup, and diced ham, and then placed another pastry crust over top. I baked it in my oven; and after twenty-five minutes I ate the delicious pie while visions of four and twenty blackbirds floated in my head.