A Brief History Of Wine

Wine, that panacea of the world’s woes, is in fact, older than recorded history. The earliest evidence for the cultivation of grapes and the fermentation of their juices dates back to 6,000 B.C. The Egyptians recorded the harvest of grapes on the walls of their tombs; bottles of wine were even buried with pharaohs in order that they might entertain guests in the afterlife!

The evidence from tablets and papyri found, and Egyptian tombs fills volumes, charting its emergence alongside civilization itself from the East and man emerges boldly from the shadows, jug of wine in hand. But sadly, however vividly depicted for us to see, the wine of the ancient Pharaoh’s is too far distant, too remote to have any real meaning.

Fortunately the wine we know of today has far more traceable roots that begins with the Greeks and Phoenicians who colonized the Mediterranean around 1,500 BC. That was when wine emerged to where it was ultimately to make its home. Italy, France, Spain, Africa, Sicily and the Black Sea all had their first vineyards in the time of the Greek and Phoenician Empires.

The wines of Greece were lavishly praised and documented by her poets though being flavoured with herbs, spices and honey and regularly diluted with water (sometimes even seawater) does tend to throw doubts on its quality.

What is indisputable is that the wines of the Aegean were highly prized for their distinct characters, and when the Greeks industrialized winegrowing in southern Italy, the Etruscans in Tuscany and the Romans followed suit.

In ancient Rome, the great writers, wrote instructions to winegrowers while others were much more calculating, discussing how much work a slave could do for how little food and sleep without losing condition. Roman wine was mass produced and business calculations were at the heart of it. It spread across the Empire, until Rome was eventually importing countless shiploads of amphorae from her colonies in Spain, North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Some Roman wines had extraordinary powers of keeping, suggesting that it was well made. It was frequently concentrated by heat, and even smoked to achieve what must have been a Madeira-like effect.

Pliny, whose ‘Natural History’ recommends that the boiling of wine to concentrate it be done in vessels made of lead in order to sweeten it. The resulting lead-oxide poisoning must have been excruciating, leading eventually to blindness, insanity and death. But many of the resulting symptoms and pains were never connected with their cause, many were merely put down to bad vintages.

The Greeks may have taken wine north into southern Gaul but it was the Romans who domesticated it. By the fifth century, when they withdrew from what is now France, they had laid the foundations for almost all of the most famous vineyards, Burgundy, Mosel, Bordeaux, Alsace, and Galicia in Spain of the modern world.

After the fall of Rome, wine continued to be produced in the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. It spread eastward to Central Asia along the Silk Route; grape wine was known in China by the eighth century.

(It’s a little known fact but the spread of Islam largely extinguished the wine industry in North Africa and the Middle East) Throughout Europe, wine-making was primarily the business of monasteries, because of the need for wine in the Christian sacraments. During this period stronger, more full-bodied wines replaced their sweeter ancient predecessors.

The journey from this point to the infamous cheese and wine party is a tortuous one but be that as it may, I shall endeavour to get there . . . next time!

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Feeding The Family On £3/10

The second world war saw the end of a lot of things, some great, some less great. While more and more women  were becoming employable in the world of work, many of the older ‘positions’ such as house staff in middle class houses were becoming out-dated.

But in this article on family and budgeting taken from the war years the family of five being accounted for includes a live-in maid as a part of that calculation! Mother, Father, two children and the house-maid.

A brave new world world indeed!

As a general rule of thumb:

£1 in 1910 = £109.34 in 2010.

£10 in 1910 = £1,093.40 in 2010.

In 1940, £200 would have been a good annual salary, so this example is obviously at the higher end of the earnings bracket.

Not that 1940 could be considered as a ‘normal’ working year  by any stretch of the imagination but it serves as a fairly good indication.

That being as it may and me being a cynical old sod at the best of times, I note with interest that one thing that has not been costed into the carefully prepared budget is the maids wages!

Is it just me?

I sense another article coming on . . .

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How To Patronize A Woman Part 3, Or Was It 4? Or 5?

From the archive, a modest, unassuming piece from ‘Womans Day’ on how to transform the plainest of the plain into Betty Grable! (Julia Roberts to those of a later time span or Katie Perry to those so young as to make me feel disgustingly middle aged!)

Dating back to the late fifties and despite the austerities of the not long passed war years the fact remained that it was the ‘duty’ of a woman to look good for her man and, increasingly, herself.

A man didn’t have to of course. Scarring, a limp, or an eye-patch were all badges of honour, tokens of the war years, war wounds to be ‘passed over lightly’ in polite company and never discussed, verified or not!

I believe it was Winston Churchill himself who said:

“Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer-gut and still think they are sexy!”

It may not have been of course, though he did have a somewhat caustic turn of phrase when occasion demanded. My favourite has got to be,

“Madam I may be drunk, but you are ugly. I shall be sober in the morning”

The original article came as a supplement in a 1959 edition of “Womens Day” magazine and is quite representative of its time.

The war had done wonders for the rights of women to do jobs long since considered the domain of men and flourish in their own right.

Mind you, the letter from the editor is probably one of the most patronising pieces I have seen in quite a while. The bloke who wrote that now would be strung up by the heels at the very least!

By the way and neither here nor there, I think the brownette (brunette) image is actually a very young Maureen Lipman but I could be mistaken.

My eyesight isn’t what it once was . . .

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The Fashion of Austerity

Frocks 1From the late forties and early fifties, with wartime austerity still holding sway over the must have fashions of the day, the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy still held sway even among the more well to do in society.

The idea of a complete new wardrobe for every successive ‘season’ was deeply ingrained but was not always an option.

Here, a number of ideas for the modification of ‘older garments’ in the style of celebrity designers of the day (Stiebel, Hartnell, Molyneux) are presented as a cost effective way of achieving this.

Frocks 2The dictates of the current ‘season’ were absolute! Anyone who was anyone would be expected to at least make the effort to follow the mores and follies of fashion. A yard or two of ribbon judiciously applied could work wonders.

In these days of more austere times, for many differing reasons, would it not be nice to see an elegant lady, dressed up to the nines for a ‘night on the town’ with the aid of taffeta, coloured felt and gingham!

All of this topped off with a small, sailor style hat, piled high with fruits, flowers and yet more ribbon must have been a sight worth seeing at all the chic events and society gatherings in the Metropolis.

Frocks 3

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Spring is in the Air!

With January and February behind us and March creeping on (I could have said marching on but I’m not that pedantic or crass) and the 26th March, as well as being Mothering Sunday, is the day the clocks leap into spring!

In honour of this I have a couple of good old celebration cakes to usher in the new season. Taken from a book of Farmhouse Recipes dating back to the mid-eighties, the first has to be the strawberry cake!

What could be better with a nice chilled glass of bubbly alongside?

To follow there is a ginger sponge and a chocolate layer cake to add to the mix.

The chocolate inclusion is quite appropriate but the ginger, although becoming more accepted, is still a little bit risque!

Me I love ginger! I add it to such diverse dishes as peach crumble, shortbread biscuits and caramel cheesecake!

Fresh, it will brighten up the best curry, or enhance many a pork dish.

It features widely in Chinese and Malaysian cuisine as well as Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan dishes.

Hmmm. I feel an ‘Origins Of . . .’ post coming on to clarify the stuff in greater detail! Meanwhile, enjoy the cakes and don’t forget to have a glass of bubbly for me!





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The time has come the Walrus said . . .

. . . to speak of many things, of sailing ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and Kings!

Lewis Carrol

Indeed, as Granny Robertson’s Cookbook enters its sixth year, in this, it’s 400th post I thought it would be interesting to look back at half a dozen of the articles that I have surprised myself, and a multitude of others with!

The first must be the ‘Afternoon Tea’ concept that has taken up so much of my blogging time. It’s history and shameless one-upmanship are second to none in the British psyche,

The second concerning the consumption of whalemeat in the British diet is fascinating,

The third must be the establishment of Lever Brothers back at the beginning of the century culminating in the recent muti-billion dollar offer for Unilever by a larger, Kraft led conglomerate,

Fourth must be the mind-numbing ‘duck press’ article reblogged from a long time fellow blogger at ‘British Food – A History’ involving the compression of whole birds in a kind of cider press,

The fifth, a piece published in a ‘Boys Annual’ for Christmas 1965 with an article on the up-coming 1966 world cup competition. An amusing anomaly in this age of instant and in-your-face news/sports coverage,

and finally, sixth, the biggest surprise of the lot, is an article on Fanny Cradock. Ms Cradock (she never actually married Johnny) was one of the earliest twentieth century celebrity cooks, appearing regularly on television and touring the country with her cookery show.It has been firmly lodged in my ‘most viewed posts’ column since publication and remains to this day one of my highest rated posts with many thousand hits.

Who would have thought it with so much other daft stuff I’ve put out there on the blog! Granny Robertson must be spinning in her grave.

Many thanks to all my followers over the years and just keep on watching this space!

(I shall try not to disappoint)

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Poppy In The Mist

Rolling in the dewMist doesn’t mean a great deal to a dog, especially one that can’t see very well to begin with!

No, the fun and excitement come from the new, fresh scents and a fabulous opportunity to roll in the cold, wet grass!

Afterwards, a brisk walk home, a good bowl of breakfast biscuits and then back to bed until it clears up a bit and the chance of a warmer walk beckons.

Whoever said it was a dogs life!

Is there anybody there?Come on then!Who on earth wants to get up at this time of the day anyway?

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