Monday, December 31, 2007

Dum Luk Nogs Eggs

One of my favored youthful seasonal indulgences was the local dairy's eggnog which showed up maybe December 5th and was gone by the 31st.

Nowadays it seems to appear before Halloween and stick around until after Valentine's. Like xmas tree lights it is stretched to serve every occasion of the dark, cold, time of year.

The Kidtm enjoys the stuff as I did. So every year I get to sample the local brews, which are mostly not remarkably different from my memory. Well, except for one very small local organic dairy who make an excellent, in all respects, eggnog.


They put cinnamon in it.

To them, I suspect, this is an old family recipe that they have served time out of mind and adore. I have even less doubt that they have a loyal following who approve of this practice, for each year they bally forth's the same treasured product.

So, what I say here has nothing to do with their hard earned success in all they do -- including their eggnog. But... I find the addition a specious adulteration which no sane, or opinionated, asshole, such as my self, will tolerate. There.

I know, he perorates, how to nog an egg properly. Attendez, mes enfants, so:

Separate a dozen eggs.
Beat the whites stiff.
With the same beaters, without cleaning, beat the yolks until thick and light. Add a cup or more of granulated sugar a little at a time. Less is best but this measure is entirely to your own taste. Add a tablespoon of vanilla and a teaspoon (or more) of freshly ground nutmeg. Now add a quart of heavy whipping cream. When mixed pour into a suitable bowl.
Fold in the beaten whites.
If not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate.
Else: Ladle into mugs, cups, glasses, steins, dancing slippers or what you like.
At this point you have a sort of ecumenical, or Unitarian Universalist, nog which can be offered to everyone able to stand. For those who like to blunt their wits with something of the maker's art, elevating their soul to commune with the higher spirits, add a wee, or not so wee, dram of what you fancy.

"Pairsonally," said the auld git, "Ai prayfer the malt on t'side."

And a very happy New Year to us all!!
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Sunday, December 30, 2007

On Ways to Stuffing a Goose

n.b.: Cooking fowl at proper temperatures to insure succulence and tenderness creates an excellent environment to grow bacteria in stuffing inside the goose (Turkey, duck et al.) Better to use discardable aromatics in the cavity and make the dressing in a casserole.

An Evolution of Dressing

When I commenced to start to begin to learn (as Del would say) how to cook a goose, I followed the recipe in the Horizon Cookbook, and used this for stuffing:

Persian Cracked Wheat and Apricot Stuffing

½ lb dried apricots, pitted1 tsp dried sage
1 cup tawny port winesalt and pepper
2 cups cracked wheat bulghur)½ lb dried prunes, pitted and halved
¼ cup butter2 med onions chopped
1 /3 cup pine nuts1 cup beef broth

Soak the apricots in the port overnight. Reserve port to baste bird.Soak the cracked wheat in 4 cups of water for two hours. Drain well.Melt the butter and fry the onion and celery, add the well-drained cracked wheat, and sauté for five minutes. Season with sage, and salt and pepper to taste.Mix in prunes, pine nuts, drained apricots, and broth and simmer for 30 minutes. Makes about 6 cups, enough to stuff body cavity and neck of a 10-pound bird

-- Horizon Cookbook, 1968

This is very good.

But, always one to paint a gilt lily, I became so full of myself as to make this:

(Full of enough shit to stuff a goose)
By Martin Langeland
C 2001

This is my evolution of the Horizon Cookbook's Persian Cracked Wheat Stuffing.

A day or so before use fill a quart jar half full of dried apricots. Fill the remainder with your selection of dried fruits such as Prunes, dried cranberries, dried sweet or tart cherries and so on. Chop if you like, I leave them whole. Add a cup of tawny port, cover and turn end for end several times each day until used.

On the day, sauté a medium onion and the top of a bunch of celery — the more leaves the better thinks I — in butter or butter and olive oil until the onion softens. Add garlic, celery seed and a bit of cayenne.

Take a half cup each of cracked wheat, pearl barley, white and brown rice and add to the vegetables. Substitute grain of your choice for some or all of the above. I found this a very pleasant combination, though I am not certain anybody else who tried it agreed. Sauté the grain (two cups in all) for about five minutes. Add a quart of chicken stock. You may need to add more if the grain absorbs it. Cook about twenty minutes until the grain is cooked. Past crunchy is better than at crunchy. Add the dried fruit and port mixture.

Fill a casserole or mold with the result and bring on the goose.

Reheats just fine. Those who like consider it a fine winter breakfast without any toppings.

My problem with both came about when I discovered that dried fruits were too much sugar for me. So this year I made the following:

Dum Luk's Cherry-Hazel Nut Stuffing

Soak a cup of bulghur in 12 oz. water for one hour. Meantime sauté a finely diced sweet onion in a quarter cup of butter until translucent. Add a tablespoon or so of garlic. Salt and pepper and celery seed to taste. Add two ribs of celery finely diced. Then add the bulghur with its water and a can of chicken stock. simmer 20 minutes or so until the bulghur is cooked. Add a cup of dry roasted hazel nuts, a cup of sour pie cherries. Fill a casserole. Pour on a miniature of Frangelica, or a couple of tablespoons of tawny port, or what you will. cover and refrigerate until needed. Heat about 30 minutes or more at 350of.

Go, thou, and vary according to your taste, your cupboard and the company you keep!

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Foolish Feast

I have long believed, without evidence beyond my laughable wit, that the Twelve days of Christmas were twelve days in duration.
Elaine informs me otherwise:
My source (Matthews, J. 1998. The Winter Solstice) says that

Christmas Day is just Christmas Day and thus = Day # 0
Day #1 =
St. Stephen's Day a.k.a. Boxing Day
Day #2 = St. John's Day a.k.a. Mother Night
Day #3 =
Holy Innocent's Day or Childremass
Day #4 = The Feast of Fools

Day #5 = Bringing in the Boar

Day #6 = New Year's Eve a.k.a. Hogmanay

Day #7 =
New Year's Day, a.k.a. The Kalends of January
Day #8 = Snow Day

Day #9 = Evergreen Day

Day #10 =
St. Distaff''s Day
Day #11 = Eve of Epiphany, a.k.a. Festival of the Three Kings

Day #12 =
Epiphany, a.k.a. Twelfth Night

also note that Matthews considers the Winter Solstice to last two days, 12/21-22
So, happy fourth day all even though five days have elapsed since Christmas.
I have no problem adding twelve to zero to produce twelve, the math works. But I think there may be some objections in making Christmas a nothing day.
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

How Cooks My Goose

Goose do require a modest amount of fuss in prep. After that they are no more challenging than turkey. Thinks I.

First item: Have two roasting pans and a rack that allows for easy transfer of the goose from one to the other.

Fetch your goose, between 8 and 12 pounds, early enough to be completely thawed by the time you mean to prepare it for cooking. Wear expendables: grubbies or a working apron. Roll your sleeves up. You will get intimate with this goose which always means a bit of mess.

Preheat oven to 350of. Unveil the goose from out of its packaging and rinse it. If the innards are in the cavity, remove them and reserve. Inside one end will be two great wads of fat. These pull away easily. Do so and reserve them to render later for deep frying oil. Slide your fingers or a rubber spatula (I end up using both) between the skin and the meat. Try not to break the skin. Do this all over the trunk of the goose. Prick the goose with a fork all over through the skin BUT NOT INTO the meat. Spoon as much garlic as you like between the skin and the meat. Salt and pepper ad libidum inside and out. Collect a bouquet garni of sage, thyme, rosemary and what-have-you-else. Add the leafy end of a celery rib or two and a halved onion with its dried outer layers and ends still attached. Shove all of this into the cavity and place the bird breast side down on the rack in the first roaster. Cover with a tent of aluminum foil, shiny side in to reflect the heat. Convey the goose into the oven.

That is most of the fuss.

Let the bird render for one to one and a half hours, until you have at least an inch of fat in the roasting pan. Set the innards to simmer in a pot of water, with a bay leaf crumbled in, covered, for about an hour. Meanwhile finely dice a small onion, a rib or two of celery, and a carrot. Place this in the second roasting pan with some garlic, sage, thyme, etc. When the hour expires remove the first roaster from the oven carefully to not spill any of the quart or so of hot fat you now have. Place it in an out of the way spot where you can leave it 'til the next day. Transfer the goose to the other roaster. Turn it breast side up. With its foil tent tucked in put the bird back in the oven for another hour to two hours depending on the size of the goose. You can tell it is done by how freely you can move a wing or a leg in its socket. Remove the foil tent and rub the bird with a stick of butter (or brush melted butter over the skin). Return to the oven for fifteen minutes, or so, until the skin browns and crisps to your preference. Remove from oven and transfer the bird to a carving platter and let it rest for twenty minutes or so, before carving.

Whereas the first roaster was filled with mostly fat, the second roaster should contain a nicely browned collection of vege, juice and fat. Pour this into a blender or food mill and whiz it into a puree. Add a tablespoon or so (depending on thickness desired) of flour while it whirls. Deglaze the pan with a half cup or so of tawny port. Add to the liquefied vege/drippings mixture in a frying pan or sauce pan, and heat. Stir frequently as it nears the boil. As it thickens add buttermilk (about two cups) and, or, the water the innards simmered in (about one cup), to the gravy. You can add the heart and liver to the blender, or not. Or feed them to the cats or dogs.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Morn

The ghost of Gluttony Past conjoins with the remains of Gluttony Present:1. Sourdough Kaiser Rolls; 2. Mince Pie; 3. Pumpkin Pie; 4. Anise cookies; 5. remnants of peppernotten and pfefferneuse; 6. Chocolate Pepper Cookies; 7. Fruit Cake.
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Boxing Day Cat

Lapsang takes his ease after breakfast.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cooking is Science

Science is experiment.

Experiments do fail.


My post, Another Fruit Cake, contains a recipe for Tropical Fruit Cake which came out of Dorothy's recipe file. It is a light, as in color, fruit cake featuring Brazil nuts, dates and maraschino cherries. I vaguely remember Dorothy making this, though I preferred her darker Royal King Fruit Cake.

Ann remembers it, too.

So, for the first time, I tried to follow the recipe on Dorothy's card. Uncharacteristically I stuck pretty close to the directions and measures on the card.

The result was not good.

It made eight small loaves. It over baked, slightly, in an hour, rather than an hour and a half to two hours, in a cooler oven than called for (because my oven usually runs about 25o hotter than set). Each is an Andean diorama of Brazil nuts, cherries and dates barely connected at the bottom of deep crevasses with a rubbery sponge. There was not enough batter to cover the nuts and fruit, which is how I remember this cake. Separating the batter ingredients from the filler shows the recipe to be a basic sponge: Roughly equal parts of sugar, flour and eggs. (I think three eggs would be about three-quarters of a cup.)

So the problem would appear to be a mismatch in the quantities of fruits to cake. I would recommend cutting the fruit and nuts in half, or doubling the batter parts. Except. I double checked the recipe I used with the original card. They are the same. Here's an almost identical version of Dorothy's recipe that I found through Google.

Now I have about a pound of beautifully roasted Brazil nuts agglomerated to a scant pound of too dried out dates by a thin plastic sponge.

Maybe I could add more batter and steam it to rejuvinate the dates. Maybe I could break it up and start over with just the batter?

Maybe I could just start over?

Maybe I could forget it?



Update: Steaming makes the dates soft and the sponge less rubbery which saves the cakes. Moral: Watch the oven to prevent over baking. Still don't like the proportions.
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Yes, If ...

I whole heartedly support Digby's point here ...


Like South Africa, who created the truth commissions AFTER the Blacks were freed to be equal to the Afrikaner Party of De Klerk and VerWoerd, The Re-Thugs and the Media grant that Democrats, progressives and all non re-thugs are equal to Capitalists.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Order of Battle For the Cook's Christmas Day

Rather than consult a host of cookery books, or, infinitely worse, trust my memory, I like to print out a sheaf of recipes for the day and one or two preceding which I meditate upon during those clusters of moments when my frazzled ego screams at my dazed id: Fer gawds sake what comes next? Here is a sketch of one such. I will add to it to make it more complete:

Shopping List
Xmas 2006

1/3cupbleu cheese

olive oil
1tspfennel seed
1bunchItalian parsley
1 cupoatmeal
1 bunchbroccoli
2cups buttermilk
6slicesred onion
1 1/2tspsage, thyme etc
curly endive
1/2cupwild rice
1lbsbrown sugar
1/2tspginger root
1 1/2lbschicken breast
42ozchicken stock
1 1/2tblvegetable oil
1/4 cupcider vinegar
12 ozcranberries
red pepper
red potatoes
6 medonions

Yield: 6 Servings

3 Eggs1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Cup Milk2 Tbl Butter
Preheat oven and popover pan (muffin tins) to 375°f. Beat eggs light in electric mixer or with whisk. Slowly add milk and flour until a consistency of heavy cream is reached. Add a dash of salt. Divide the butter into each cup. Fill with Pop over batter. Bake for 35 minutes.

Buttered Eggs With Sausage
1/2 Lb Ground Chicken Salt & Pepper
1 Cup Matzo Meal1 Tbl Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves. Smashed6 Eggs
1 Tsp Sage2 Tbl Heavy Cream
1 Tsp Thyme4 Tbl Butter
1/2 Tsp Rosemary,Crushed1/4 Cup Italian parsley
1/8 Tsp Cayenne

Mix Chicken, Matzo meal and herbs. Refrigerate overnight.
Make patties and saute in olive oil or schmaltz until done. Place on a serving dish to stay warm. Add a bit of oil or butter if needed. Crack the eggs into the pan. When the whites begin to set, add the cream and salt & pepper. Stir gently. When almost done, add parsely and butter.

Crecy Soup
Yield: 6 Servings
Great British Cooking

1 tbl butter20 oz water
1 lb carrots1 tsp sugar
1 orange, juiced3 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup all purpose floursalt & pepper
20 oz chicken stock1 cup watercress, chopped

Cut carrots in 2" pieces. Melt butter in stock pot. Add carrots, onions and garlic. Saute for about five minutes. Add flour. Stir well and gradually add the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the sugar and simmer 10 minutes more. Remove from the stove and puree in a blender. Return soup to stock pot. Add orange juice and cream. Season. Reheat it very gently. Do not boil! Garnish with Watercress. OR, to serve cold: Transfer to a clean bowl and chill for at least three hours.

Christmas Goose
10 lb goose1 tsp celery seed
1/2 lb apricots, dried1/2 tsp cayenne
1 miniature Frangelico1 cup hazel nuts, chopped
2 tbl olive oil1 cup tart apples, diced
2 cups wild rice1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped fine
2 cups bulgar20 oz chicken stock
6 cups water1/4 cup flour
1/4 lb butter1 qt buttermilk
1/2 cup onion, diced2 cups peaches
1 tbl caraway seed2 tbl butter

If frozen, thaw goose completely. Soak apricots overnight in Frangelico. Preheat oven to 350°f. Reserve innards. Remove fat (Save to render) Slide finger or rubber spatula between meat and fat layer under skin. Carefully prick skin to fat, but not into meat. Brush with olive oil. Cover loosely with foil. Put 2 cups water in pan. Place bird, breast down, on rack over pan. Roast 1 hour. Pour rendered fat and water out of pan. Reserve. Turn bird breast up. Simmer innards on top of stove. Return to oven. Raise temp. to 400°f. Roast 1½ hour more. Cook wild rice and bulgar in water. Add 6 tbl. butter at finish. Chop onion, apples, nuts and parsley. Saute onion in 2 tbl butter until translucent. Crush caraway and celery seed in a mortar and add with cayenne. Add apples, nuts, parsley and stock. Simmer 10 minutes. Mix into rice and bulgar. Fill casserole dish. Cover. Bake 30 minutes at 350°f.When bird is done, set out of the way for 20 minutes. Then move bird to platter. Pour off fat. Save for later use. Deglaze pan with water from innards. Reserve drippings.Make a roux of 6 tbl goose fat and ¼ cup flour. Cook. Add pan drippings and cook til thick. Add buttermilk. Saute peach halves in butter until brown to garish platter and plate.
Turnip Yer Nose
Yield: 6 Servings
-ml- 1999

3 lbs turnips1 tbl sesame oil
3 tbl cilantro, chopped1 tbl sugar
3 garlic cloves1 tbl sesame seeds
3 tbl rice vinegar2 tbl Canadian bacon, chopped fine.

Peel and cube turnips. Boil til just cooked. Drain. Mix remaining ingredients. Add to turnips and toss to coat.
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Friday, December 07, 2007

Another Fruit Cake

UPDATE! Read before baking!

Ann reminds me that Dorothy made another fruit cake less molassesy dark, but also rich and moist and loaded with dates. Ann says she has encountered the recipe now and again in odd places. Once she saw it in Vogue magazine. It is called Tropical Fruit Cake and features red and green maraschino cherries and whole Brazil nuts. The last item is lacking in the Royal King Fruit Cake recipe as Dorothy made it which leads me to wonder if I have conflated the two recipes in making my own version. Hmm. frailty. Mumble...mumble.

Tropical Fruit Cake

Categories: Cakes
Yields: 6

3 cups Brazil Nuts
1 pound Dates Pitted
1 cup Maraschino Cherries Red & Green Mixed
0.75 cup Flour All Purpose
0.75 cup sugar
0.5 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Dump nuts & fruit into a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to fruits & Nuts. Mix with hands until well covered (The nuts and fruit, not your hands, silly.) Beat eggs in a small bowl until foamy. Add vanilla. Pour over fruits & nuts. Mix well. Bake in greased, papered loaf pan in a 3000f. oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sinterklaas Dag

So yesterday the Kidtm informed me that it had been years since I had made a Peppermint Roll. There was no arguing with this. It is true.

Too late for the Dutch observance of Saint Nick's day, and all but too late for the day itself when much of the rest of the world celebrates the grand bishop of Turkey, patron of children, who mostly made it a practice to rescue young girls, whose families could not dower them, with sufficient of the ready to find a proper husband and avoid a life of desolation as either a spinster or prostitute. To this humble foundation the World and his Wife have added substance and structure over many centuries and in much of the planet. Many cultures remember his generosity by giving him vast scope to gift all the children of the world with ephemera of far greater worth (to toy makers and retailers and multifarious and nefarious bankers) then dozens of dowries. Some have changed his name: Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Pere Noel, Nikolaus, Sinterklaas, or more colloquially: De Sint. The time of his appearance has been moved about to suit the convenience of whatever establishment there may be. Even his costume changes along with his avoirdupois.

The Dutch call him Sinterklaus and welcome the jolly gent on his arrival from Spain a day or two before the fifth of December as he saunters in his red and white Bishop's rig, complete with miter and crozier, from the docks into town on his white horse, Amerigo (or maybe Schimmel). Gamboling at his side is his faithful servant, Zwarte Piet. Black Peter is a moor. Thus the whole set up ties in with a 16th century milieu as the product relaunch for this version of Saint Nicolas. Piet's function is to toss handfuls of Peppernotten indiscriminately at all and sundry, and to hand out the gifts after Sinterklaas has pronounced judgment on the behavior of the household's children. Sometimes these character assessments are delivered in verse. Whether doggerel or poetry depends on the ability and taste of the writer (usually der Pa or der Ma). Willful miscreants were suitably treated to Morally edifying gifts such as a bit of coal, in mindfulness of their current destinalion, or a wisp of nutritious straw. The ones who sweet talked their way past the parental sense of duty to cuddle in the indulgence spot got more various things, useful or otherwise.

But, today, Piet makes some uncomfortable. Is he a racist stereotype? Depends. While folk argue that one, some turn Piet blue or orange, which possibly will offend any old punk rocker in the neighborhood. Perhaps the most true position is to concentrate on his role as helper, rather than his appearance which is true to the historical context, but not germane to the modern role.

Here then are this year's Peppernotten and the Peppermint Roll, which is a chocolate meringue rolled around whipped cream and crushed peppermint sticks.

Peppermint Roll

Categories: Dessert
Yields: 10

3 tablespoon Droste's (Dutch processed) Cocoa
0.5 cup powdered sugar
5 Eggs separated
0.75 cup heavy cream
0.5 cup peppermint sticks

Preheat oven to 350f. Line a jelly roll pan with wax (parchment) paper and butter and flour it. Sift together cocoa, powdered sugar and a dash of salt. Separate eggs. Beat whites stiff. Beat yolks light. Add dry ingredients. Fold in whites. Pour into jelly roll pan. Bake 20 - 25 minutes. Turn onto a cloth sprinkled with powdered sugar. Cool slightly. Beat cream stiff. Spread over meringue. Crush peppermint sticks between two sheets of wax paper. Sprinkle on cream. Roll. Wrap in wax paper and chill.
Adjust the time and temp to suit your stove.
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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Unconventional Conventional Wisdom

The old quote (slightly racist):
Fool-a-me-once: Shame on you!
Fool-a me twice: Shame on ME!
Then Del rectified:
Fool-a-me-once: Shame on you!
Fool-a me twice: Shame on ME
Fool-a me three- times: NO CAN BE!!!
Now, go see Digby for Fool-a-me-37,858,576,37218.
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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Moral Certainty in Economics

Somewhere in the midst of stagflation two brothers meet. Drink. Discuss.
Marty (Artistè): The economy is out of control.
Henry (Banker): Nonsense. The Fed has complete control. But it takes time, maybe six months, for a Fed action to show up in the economy. Kind of like you turn the steering wheel and a bit later the car begins to turn.
Marty: So, if I'm on a mountain road full of switch backs and the fed turns the wheel to go 'round a curve, six months later the car will turn?
Henry: That's right.
Marty: And six months later where, exactly, is the car? If I turn the wheel even three seconds too late I know where it will be: Bottom of the ravine.
Henry: Mmphf.
Marty: So, tell me, How long does it take the Fed to figure out how much to turn the steering wheel and which way? A month? Three? Instantaneous?
Henry: You have to gather the statistics and analyze the data.
Marty: You call that control?

The rest is irrelevant drunken muttering.
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Noises Off

Of the early signs that Christmas would come, Dorothy's making of Fruit Cake was near the first. Dark, rich, moist, more fruit and nuts than cake, its complex flavors delight the palette and signify the joyous munificence that is supposed to be the hallmark of the season.

Dorothy's was all of that with a hint of spirits -- a cheap California brandy -- to preserve. Well, when I reached an age to be interested in such, I swore she used the same small flask of brandy year after year with the tide line barely budging. As a senior in High School I judged it time she got a new bottle. So, over a week or two, I and a pal or two diluted our orange juice with a dab that might have served Beau Brummel as cologne, but took some doing to finally evaporate the contents. What rips we thought ourselves! But I digress.

October, or early November. the aromatic loaves lay on the counter when I returned home from. Small, mahogany cakes, glistening with the baptismal alcohol, awaited their foil wrapping. Once wrapped they disappeared into a high closet shelf to mellow and age several weeks before taking the center of many a holiday sweet tray. Frequently it was arrayed in a white frosting that the unsuspecting might be forgiven for thinking was some sort of crême or fondant. One bite and the sweet tang of well brandied hard sauce disabused the unfortunate youngster who sampled a generous fingerful.

To judge by its name, I think Dorothy's recipe came from a woman's magazine of the thirties or forties. It has the sound of a publicist's best insinuation: Royal King Fruit Cake.

It's most salient feature was a modest admixture of black walnuts. These get harder to find as time regresses ever-relentless forwards providing us with more and more of less and less.

But the essence of fruit cake is the glacé fruit. This is a lengthy process of preserving fruit by replacing the moisture in fruit or peel with a sugar syrup. Traditionally this is strictly cane sugar and water transfused slowly over several days to preserve the texture of the original fruit. In US manufacture the process is sped by the admixture of corn syrup, dye, and the rest of the food chemist's bag of tricks. For more on the process see here. Dorothy's recipe calls for two pounds of glacéd fruit, plus a pound and a half, each, of currants and raisins. This, with a pound of coconut and a pound or two of nuts, is divided among eleven loaves and a modest round pudding basin.

It makes for wonderful seasonal gifts ... always assuming that you are the sort who likes mostly people with a fondness for fruit cake. If they blench on opening, you have encountered one of the majority with no stomach for the crittur. Curiously there is no middle ground. No one can "take it or leave it alone" like Mr Thurber's bear. Growing up with the stuff, I belong in the minority who have a notion of what is good. At least I do when it comes to fruit cake.

After I left home, whenever I thought there might be access to an oven, I would pester Dorothy for the recipe. She obliged every time. Once, at one odd juncture, I managed to organize, briefly, my recipes. All told I found a dozen copies in Dorothy's fist, either by pen or typewriter. It was among the very first recipes I digitized. A random sampling of copies from my current files:

Royal King Fruit Cake
11 Loaves
Dorothy made this every fall. So do I.
1/2 Lb Citron Peel1/2 Lb Lemon Peel
1/2 Lb Orange Peel1/2 Lb Fruit Mix, Your choice
1/2 Lb Coconut, Cut Fine24 Oz Currants
24 Oz Raisins, Seeded Muscats2 Cups Sugar, Brown
1/2 Lb Butter4 Eggs
1 Cup Molasses1/2 Cup Milk
4 Cups Flour, Bread1 Tsp Baking Soda
2 Tsp Cream Of Tartar1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Nutmeg, Or Mace1/2 Tsp Cloves
1 Cup Walnuts, Black

Cream brown sugar and butter. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add Molasses, milk. Sift dry ingredients together, add. Add nuts and fruit. Pack in small loaf tins or molds. Butter and paper the pans, first. Bake in 3000 oven for 2 hours. Place a pie pan of water in lower part of oven to keep cakes moist. Splash with dark rum or brandy as it cools.

Cream of tartar and baking soda make a leaven similar to Baking powder. With the arrival of modern commercial baking powders,that are more controlled and therefore predictable in their effects than home brewed, cream of tartar has become hard to find. Substitute 3 Tsp baking powder.


Hard sauce?
Brandy Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 Tbl cornstarchmix all three in saucepan
1/8 Tsp salt
1 cup hot wateradd slowly stir constantly to keep sauce smooth
1 Tbl butteradd both
2 Tbl brandycook until clear

Serve over pudding, mince pie, or fruit cake

My annual visit to this has changed the ingredients some.
I add:

  • A half pound of filberts
  • A half pound of Brazils
  • A half pound of Australian ginger root. That's the kind in cubes. I cut those in half or quarters to match the raisin and fruit pieces
  • Or a half pound dried cranberries or dried cherries or neither
  • The fruit and nuts are mixed together with a wineglass or generous tot of a dark flavorful rum(more recently that has changed to a darkish malt) in a large bowl the night before I mix the cake batter
  • As the cakes come out of the oven they get a generous baptism of the rum or malt.
  • Do watch the time. My smallish pans bake the cakes unless than two hours. Check yours early and often as they say about voting.
I've been tempted to try dried blueberries but haven't done so yet. I have used smashed ginger root in place of the dried ginger powder.

Here's this year's crop:
These get vacuum sealed and labeled.

One year I gave a cake to my mentor Doc Shaffer. He took it to a gathering in Seattle. Norm Rice, then Seattle's Mayor, was among the guests and liked the cake. "It's the nuts!" Norm Rice said as Doc reported to me.

But my most treasured reaction came one year from my Father-in-law: "Anybody who puts whole Brazil nuts in fruit cake can't be all bad!"


Update: Several folk have made remarks about the "dense" fruit cakes of their youth. This puzzles me. My fruit cake is basically a bunch of fruit and nuts held -- sometimes quite tenuously -- together with the cake. (All by itself the cake batter makes an excellent spice cake.) Perhaps people mean dry and brick like when they say dense. This cake remains soft if not over baked. A generous hand with the malt or rum helps to keep every article (and person) in suspension.
2nd Update, 7 December: Ann prompts me to what I have not brought to mind in many, many years. In the forties we lived in a brick "square deal" bungalow in a failed development near Chicago. Only a half dozen or so houses had been completed before the builder's 1929 bust. Another was occupied by a family named Reinerts who had children of similar ages to Dorothy's and so all became friends. Mary Reinerts made a wonderful fruit cake. Dorothy requested the recipe, please. Mary allowed friendship to overcome her reluctance. But, she explained, the recipe was one that must be guarded. Her family had been cooks to the Royal Family of Austria when they developed this recipe for them. Dorothy promised. Yet all her children are furnished with their copies and who knows where else the recipe has traveled. Nay-the-less, it appears I have acquired yet another karmic debt by publishing it here. Saa-a-a.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Word Inflation

One of Earle's favorite comments was:

"The first fifty years are the hardest."

But I first encountered word inflation, not through Victor Borge's twoderful skit, but when Earle turned 45. Overnight the comment grew:

"The first hundred years are the hardest."

Now is Dum Luk's time. About 11 am PST visitor number 10,000 (according to Sitemeter) came calling from Princeton, New Jersey, in quest of portable beehive ovens.

So now all of you kind readers are "among the lucky first twenty thousand".

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goblins'll Getcha

Orange-red sunset sky streaked with grey-black wisps from burning maple and oak leaves lower over the elms surrounding the large white house on the corner of South and Main streets in a small Midwestern town on a crisp October day about 1953. Rising some feet above street level the lawn levels at the sidewalk before continuing on to the evergreen shrubs around the porch that wraps around two sides of the house facing the street. A lumber yard owner built the house as a wedding present for his daughter at the turn of the twentieth century. From the roof of the porch it rises one story for the bedroom level before sloping up the the gabled third story of the attic, except for the one turreted tower which surveys the South and West over the tops of the elms. Broad steps in a short flight ascend from the yard to the porch. To the left is a screened enclosure for summer use, now vacant, the screens stored under the decking. A large plate glass window and large varnished door face the steps. The window shows the living room which runs almost the length of the house. The door leads into a vestibule which echoes voices and foot steps.
On most nights the house is well lit as it is now occupied by a family of six, who find it neither commodious nor snug, but just a pleasant fit. Or normal in that special way that everything one is used to is accepted as normal, no matter what other's may think. Tonight the house is dark and soon will loom over the street, its tower picked out by the moon or suddenly lost as the cumulus scud by.
"Damn, I wish the tower had a window," says Henry. "that's where the lantern should hang."
Instead, he and Leonard hung the lamp below the tower in Earle and Dorothy's bedroom window. That and the porch light by the door were the only illumination to greet the costumed youngsters now passing up and down the town.
They began planing a week ago and who knows how much earlier they had thought about it. Henry at sixteen was not so excited by simple Halloween canvassing. Leonard, at fourteen, was open to new horizons. Only I, at 9, still counted the swag as the important part of the festival. So they put their heads together with their friends to plot and concoct.
Down to the basement for wood and hammers to make noise making contraptions. up to the attic to find this or that. The house in an uproar. Dorothy called the friends hoodlum companions with that disapproving pride that parents reserve for their teenage children, especially the boisterous ones with healthy imaginations and good social nous.
They talked Dorothy into wearing her long black cape to greet the trick-or-treaters. She carried a lit candle and invited the hopefuls in. Beyond the vestibule was a hall with a double door to the living room, a single door to the dining room, more doors to a couple of closets and a staircase that climbed to a landing lit by a window onto the porch then up to a second landing and a final short run to the hall above. Though there were adequate electric lights, tonight all was dark save for Dorothy's candle and a lantern held aloft by Leonard in grease paint to turn his skin a sickly green. He affected a twisted frame and began a patter in a high creaky voice of nonsense about how happy he was to see them and weren't they nice and round, he did so like fat little birds to his dinner, and similar nonsense as he led them upstairs to tour the old place. Arrived in the square hall upstairs the intrepid faced five doors and a narrow hallway leading past more doors to a narrow dark corkscrew backstair to the kitchen. Behind each door was one or more of the hoodlum companions equipped with various noisemakers: duck calls, ratchets, creaking boards, and props such as dismasted heads, skeletal hands, and rattle-able sabers.
And they whispered.
They giggled.
They cackled.
They moaned.
They wailed.
They reached out a skeletal hand to a young shoulder. From behind. In the dark. "A bit for the poor, Sonny?"
And Leonard, patter at max, led them down the raucous, cacophonous, but most of all dark, hall through cobwebs made of fine yarn or thread, by the half mannequin floating at the end of a tiny hall, past the drip of water reminiscent of Europe's finer dungeons. Behind them doors opened and closed. Screams floated after any stragglers. Odd thumps that might have been headsman's axes sounded.
At last the group reached the back stair where Leonard, oh so sincerely, warned them to mind their step.
Arrived at the bottom, a dark door barred the way forward. On the other side of this was the kitchen with a vat of mulled cider on the hob and dozens of doughnuts from our quite good local bakeshop.
There was also a well lit door at the top of a short flight of steps to the back door and the street.
Most of the trick-or-treaters accepted that the trick was on them and fled, crying into the night. The hardiest recruited themselves heartily. But most of the treats survived.
That was Henry's plan: Lot's of doughnuts and cider for Leonard, Henry, and the hoodlum haints of the haunted house.

Perhaps this sounds a bit hokey today. But this was before Shock Theater's host, Marvin, taught all us fifties teens to shudder to Karloff, Chaney and Lugosi as TV ran and re-ran the great horror flics of the thirties. And those were all done without bluescreen, let alone computer graphics.

More about Lugosi here.

Happy Samhain, all
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Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Lonely Voice Cries Out In The Wild

The Observer offers another indication that medicos are more priests than scientists.
The money quote:
The report that these experts cite most often as grounds for their assessments was published in 2000 by two Finnish researchers who surveyed all the relevant research on exercise and weight from the previous 20 years. Yet the Finnish report, the most scientifically rigorous review of the evidence to date, can hardly be said to have cleared the matter up. When the Finnish investigators looked at the results of the dozen best-constructed experimental trials that addressed weight maintenance - that is, successful dieters who were trying to keep off the pounds they had shed - they found that everyone regains weight. And depending on the type of trial, exercise would either decrease the rate of that gain (by 3.2oz per month) or increase its rate (by 1.8oz). As the Finns themselves concluded, the relationship between exercise and weight is 'more complex' than they might otherwise have imagined.
Some conventional wisdom that is not supported by scientific evidence:
Calories count.
A calorie is the amount of heat energy required to raise a liter of water 1o Celsius. How do you convert a liter of mass to energy? By using a constant (e=mc2). What's the constant for converting a liter of carrots to a liter of water? Is the same constant useful to convert potatoes? Courtesy of the wayback machine archive of
  • 3500 food calories burned by exercise equals 1 pound of weight loss.

  • 3500 food calories of water equals a whopping 7700 pounds of weight loss.

  • 3500 food calories of fat equals .856 pounds.

  • 3500 food calories of protein equals 1.925 pounds

  • 3500 food calories of cabbage equals 30.8 pounds

  • 3500 food calories of bacon equals 2.48 pounds.

  • Reducing food intake reduces weight.
    Sure it does. The largest experimental proof of this is the Twentieth Century's gulags and POW camps. It's called starvation. To make it work requires constant watching. By armed guards. With no compunction or empathy. As soon as that is removed, the individual's set point reasserts itself.

    We know how the body gains, loses and maintains weight
    Nope. Too busy making money with diet pills and drinks and fads based on misconceptions and erroneous science and "that's the stuff to feed the suckers." There are odd facts out there which are tentatively established. But the complexity of interactions which determine weight is still a terra incognita filled with hoary dragons and toasty shibboleths.

    Look how you look-- so eat!
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    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Management Imponderables

    Back in March I told one of Earle's favorite stories.
    In mid October, Morrison Bonpasse made a comment in which he noted that his grandfather's (A Harvard alum in Chemistry) family had owned Union Paste. He suggested that the tale may have been "enriched."
    I replied in the thread that the point of the story remained good whether it was literally or only metaphorically true.

    Since then it occurred to me to wonder if my words could be construed as critical of a particular company, viz: Union Paste. This was never my intention. Nor did I ever hear Earle speak critically of the concern. I apologize for anything I may have written that gave that impression.

    Rather the tale focused on a general flaw in our species. Luke 6:41 notes this flaw: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

    We have a tendency not to see what is right in front of us that is counter to our purpose. This leads to absurd decisions and stupidity. We also tend to assume that highly educated experts are the only useful source of information. Often the most important bit of information is so commonly known that no one thinks of it. Hence the definition of an expert as another village's idiot.

    It is why skepticism is the only sound basis upon which to apply the scientific method.

    It is also why a fact marks the point where inquiry ceased, rather than the result of the inquiry.
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    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    The Right Word?

    Today's mail brings a large, colorful postcard with pictures of our newly expanded hospital's new operating rooms and new staff.
    The 60 point type bravely announces:
    "It's a Boom for Surgery ..."
    The reverse continues in 30 point type:
    "...and our Surgical Patients"
    I'm overwhelmed by both their honesty and eager greed.

    Or is it merely an inept advertising firm? One that is not a boon to their clients?
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    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Mutant Meme Evolution

    John of Archy bids me mutate this meme. So...
    There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

    * You can leave them exactly as is.

    * You can delete any one question.

    * You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

    * You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

    * You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

    Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

    Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

    My great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
    My great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
    My grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
    My parent is Archy.

    The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is:
    Costigan's Needle
    by Jerry Sohl.

    The best scary movie in scientific dystopias is: Time Machine.

    The best sexy song in pop is: "September Song" as performed by Walter Huston.

    In order to keep mutation alive, I'm passing the meme on to:


    Walking the Bereshires

    Which leads to: why?
    Read Costigan's Needle in the Fifties and expanded my imaginative horizons well beyond the mass conformity and Jr Republican training I was under going in public school.

    The movie isn't all that scary. Until you start thinking about Wells' ideas. And their liklihood from our present vantage point.

    September Song, along with the rest of Weils works, was a favorite of Earle's. I liked it. But it is only recently, some forty or more years on, that I can appreciate how sexy it is.

    Go thou and do likewise.

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    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Tales From The Nailery

    In the dim misty reaches of the land called last Tuesday afternoon I misspent a substantial portion of my (ha!) prime as a peripheral festoon of the wooden boat craze of the latter end of the twentieth century. One of the high points of that fantasy was this history of nails. Though I must warn you that there is a certain amount of boat builder jargon ahead, I don't believe it will do more than mildly annoy the typical reader. Hopefully the one or two meager puns and a damp squib or two will so disconcert the reader as to maintain his or her wakefulness at the wheel.


    A Short History of The Nail

    By Martin Langeland

    Originaly Presented 5 July 1981
    at The Center for Wooden Boats
    Seattle Wooden Boat Show

    Copyright 1981 by Martin Langeland.
    Revised 2007 by Martin Langeland
    All rights reserved.

    No part of this book may be reproduced
    without written Permission of the author.


    A Garden of Marine Delights

    During the next 50 minutes I should like to escort you along a broad avenue within the Garden of Technology. Nail Way, or Via Clavus as the Romans had it, begins at a major entrance to this Garden which extends through time as well as space. Through 5,000 years of innovation it leads us into every corner of Technology and the Applied Arts with its many branchings such as Screw St., Bolt Boulevard, and Adhesive Alley. As time limits us, we would have to depart the main way early down Rivet Road. This brings us quickly to the road steads near the Springs of Ingenuity where we may board a mutable vessel to view the well marked, amply annotated and fully explained development of the marine nail in the watery precincts of the Garden.

    Alas! Such a voyage is not possible. For some reason (Unfathomable to myself who has been consumed with interest in the humble nail for some six years now) the subject fails to catch the scholarly eye. Our much vaunted culture boasts no libraries with shadowed corridors looming with the lore of the nailery, Our universities endow no Chairs of Distinguished Tacks, or Belles Brads. Very well, let it be so. Even can I put up with the exhaustive technical manuals which afford a bare passing reference to the subject, which is assumed to be kindergarten knowledge. But an undertaking to limn the history of the nail is truly to be caught in a cleft stick. One travels far afield into diverse and arcane subjects, only to return with meager gleanings of dubious value. When compared to the results of previous forays: controversy, contradiction and confusion are the principle products. In a tome of some 200 folio pages, profusely illustrated, one sketch tantalize. In Vain is all search for explication or even mention in the text. But in the next chapter the text throws out an encouraging hint at the bottom of a page:

    "It was nailed".

    Excitement fevers my brow as I hurriedly turn the page to find: A new chapter heading. What were those nails made of? How were they made? How were they used? What did they look like? All such vital concerns have been edited out to present purportedly more meaty matter.

    So I must guide you through a watery wilderness, not a garden of marine delights. Our craft is compounded of History, Archeology, Metallurgy, Machineology, Economics, Architecture, Linguistics and other trace elements. This chancy framework is covered with a skin of varying thicknesses of speculation.

    In this tender vessel we will brave a crossing of Marum Incognita in quest of our Ultima Thule: The Nail. Our way is filled with whirlpools of conjecture, floating beds of controversy, man eating quibbles, shoals of doubt, Our chart offers comforting warnings on the order of "Here be Monsters." Islets of fact are marked "Disputed", or "possible." Only infrequently comes the welcome phrase: "Probable." But all these are writ in pencil, none in ink, Prepare! Sharpen your sense of humor, wrap yourselves in a cloak of imagination, and defend yourself with a buckler of skepticism, We begin.


    In the Dim Misty Reaches

    In the dim misty reaches of the Aeneolithic (copper) Age, about 3,000 B.C., we embark on the river of time. Amidst the pre-dawn darkness of the new Stone Age which wraps the known world, two lights of culture and civilization gleam. On the far bank to the west lies the Old Kingdom of Egypt: So young they are just beginning to reckon time in Pharaonic reigns rather than seasons. On the near shore, in the fertile crescent betwixt the Tigris and Euphrates, lie the city states of Sumer: first to flower and first to fade. The epoch is one of such overwhelming innovation that our present day "Silicone Valley" pales into insignificance. Set to one side the invention of agriculture, writing, mathematics, organized religion, democracy, monarchy, theocracy, history and education. Put beside them the invention of the plow, sickle, bricks, pottery, sculpture and monumental architecture. On the other side set this wonder: These people made the leap of faith which invented the nail!

    When? Alius Liber, Alius Dictum. Which is to say: Which source will you prefer? The Encyclopedia Americana circumspectly states that nails were in use before 1100 B.C. The Brittanica is bolder. They claim the nail was in use at least as early as 1700 B.C., in Sumer, and probably a thousand years before that in Egypt. But one school of archaeological thought maintains that the Egyptians learned metal working from traders coming from the northeast.
    There is only one ultimate source in that case: Sumer. Further it had to be before 2700 B.C. when the Brittanica thinks the Egyptians were nailing things together. Sumer also had the better access to copper and tin deposits. So to Sumer and the winter of 3,000 B.C. I give credit for the birth of the nail.

    The Sumerians had a marvelous personage, their most important deity, who was in charge of the air. This god, Enlil, was credited with teaching them the art of agriculture and giving them the tools with which to do it. Before you dismiss this as myth, consider the position of the scholar several millenia hence examining the relics of our own time. Will that gent credit our assertion that there was only one John Gardner? Only one Dick Wagner? (two luminaries of the wooden boat revival in the late twentieth century. -- ed.)

    Here then is Enlil, sitting by the river in the dawning sun of recorded time trying to solve a problem. He wants to build a box. He could build it of earth, except he wants to move it about. He could build it of pottery, but he wants to toss heavy things into it. That leaves wood.

    Now wood is not perfect. It doesn't grow locally so it is expensive.
    Fitting the joints calls for an expensive master carpenter. Of course the budget is limited since this is an ordinary box, not a fancy one. Still wood is the best material, if only he could get around the high price of help.

    Just then the postman arrives with a stack of clay tablets.

    "Ah, the new issue of the Scientific Sumerian. Perhaps Enlil's What's New column can illumine." After a paragraph or two: "Eureka! " he shouts in cuneiform.

    He digs up some of that reddish soil that doesn't grow much, and stuffs it into the potter's kiln. After firing, a long skinny rod of copper lies in the scratch he made on the floor of the kiln. This he places on a hard place and with the proverbial rock beats it into a long thin wire. Then he bends a piece of it back and forth until it becomes so brittle it breaks. With a handful of these, he assembles his boards and wales away with his rock until he has hammered those nails home. The box works!

    Of course there were some gray beards present who shook their heads and said "it warn't no good." They didn't like the way the kiln stank; they thought all that banging with rocks was a safety hazard; and as for the box: Humph! That was just plain shoddy. Undeterred, Enlil wrote it up for the "Scientific Sumerian" and the new thing caught on.


    A Clump in Old Elath

    During the next millennium there were a few minor, though noteworthy, achievements by other Enlils and Thoths and so forth as new tribes caught the civilization bug and settled down to play the culture game. Things like alloying copper with tin to produce bronze. Not much came of that trick. Except a whole new age. Other metals and hot forging techniques were discovered, also annealing and heat tempering.

    But our craft is coming in sight of a fact. Let us look around us. We have moved west of Sumer and downstream in time to 700 B.C. Here we are outside Jerusalem where Solomon is King and in the process of arraying himself in all his glory.

    Solomon is transforming the Israelites from a war footing to a peacetime economy in the already time-honored manner: A large public works project. Hiram of Tyre has agreed to knock down several hundred thousand board feet of old growth cedar and fir to raft down to Solomon for a measly 20,000 measures of wheat and a like amount of fine oil. That's per year. All these fine timbers are only a small part of the materials list. There is a fair amount of stone, some gold, electrum and other baubles. All this stuff will keep the carpenters, masons and smiths occupied for the next 11 years. Rather than lay them off, causing a recession, Solomon sets them to building a palace during the following 13 years. Now you can't meet Solomon's payroll if everybody in the country is working on the temple. There is a booming economy supporting this project, not just in the agricultural sector, but in manufacturing and exporting as well.

    That means ships.

    And harbors.

    Then, as now, many of life's necessities came from the Arabian peninsula and the horn of Africa. By boat up the Red Sea to the port of Elath came they. And also came there in our days the Archaeologists.

    Among debris associated with ships' stores in a corner of a warehouse they found a verdigrised clump of copper spikes. That's the fact. My source left it at that. Were they used in the ships of the time? How? In the deadwood? In the planks? What was the cross section shape of the shank? What size was the head in relation to the shank? Were they pointed? The book is mute.

    Time presses. The stream flows on, sweeping our vessel west nor'west towards innovation point in 100 A.D. The republic of Rome is a century and a half in its grave. The Empire is reaching for its height. The Romans didn't care much for the sea and ships, which is not too surprising in a bunch of lawyers and soldiers. Solid ground they understood, but naval battles and philosophy were better left to the Greeks who enjoyed such chancy occupations.

    The litter of storm wrack on the floor of the Mediterranean attests to the wisdom of Rome's doubts. The classic Mediterranean craft was smooth sided and made of short planks usually more than 3 feet in length but seldom more than 6 feet. These were laboriously joined with tennons in mortises, and then pegged to the ribs. Their life expectancy wasn't anything to shout about.

    Now we find ourselves in the Imperial shipyard at Ostia sometime before 100 A.D. A Centurion named Gaius has been put in charge, to teach him not to mouth off to a Praefectus. Gaius is being a real go-getter, in hopes of an early return to the infantry. So he takes credit for an experiment which worked:
    Nailing the tenons in place. The resulting hull is so much stiffer and more seaworthy that all is forgiven and Gaius returns to his century with a promotion.

    But, was that when it happened? Probably not. It was probably earlier.
    But here is our fact: A wreck dated to 100 A.D. has been found with nailed tenon construction. No earlier example has been located. Yet.

    The river swirls, time slips. North by northwest to Caesar's despair, Hadrian's siege, and Ambrosius' defeat: To Britain during the Roman occupation.

    Rome seldom left its colonies idle. Always a massive building program of roads, aqueducts, arenas, baths, courts, villas masked and facilitated the flow of goods to Rome. Stone for the construction of Londonium came from quarries in Berkshire. It traveled down the Thames in shallow draft versions of the Mediterranean merchant carvels. Stout, beamy, capacious, built of good British oak.

    One such was launched in 120 A.D. and spent an uneventful four score of years hauling stone down and dead heading up. One day circa 200 A.D., near the south bank not too far from Londonium, the quartermaster was hungover, and the captain worse. The kid at the wheel fancied a course close in, hoping to see a sweetheart. Any sweetheart. The mud bank reared up out of nowhere and snatched the ship. All hands promptly swam ashore leaving the old hulk to rot. It didn't. It settled into the ooze and muck to lie undisturbed for another 1800 years, its cargo intact.

    In a section of London, between the wars, a foundation was going in where the Thames used to have its bed. There they found her: The Black Friars Ship.

    She is significant because she offers the earliest extant example of the technique of clenching nails. Spikes 29" long were driven through the two bottom planks into her oak floors. Though stout, she wasn't stout enough to swallow all those shanks, There was a bit of excess; this was neatly bashed over.


    The Lapstrake Hull and Rivets

    That slight lurch was not one of us shifting uneasily. Time passes and Rome is feeling it. In 410 A.D. the long defeat gathered weigh as the legions decamped. Some of the Celts cheered to see the invader go. Then they looked nervously over their shoulders and the cheer choked off.

    To the west the wild Irish. To the North the savage Picts. To the East, not quite yet, but soon, the heathen Vikings.
    Most terrible of all, to the Southeast: Jutland and the barbaric Angles, Saxons and Jutes. No sooner are the legions safely landed in Gaul than new ships are sighted on the North Sea.

    The Anglo Saxons are waiting in the wings with a new thing, Before they enter, let us turn aside briefly to consider the origins of this new thing.

    For two thousand years and more the inhabitants of Scandinavia practiced a curious custom which has been a great boon to the arts of scholarship and controversy. They carved pictures on rocks with gay abandon. Many of these pictures are of boats. Some say they are dugouts. Some say they aren't. Some say they are hide covered boats. Some say they aren't. Since neither are nailed together, I don't pretend to have an opinion.

    The next development we have is somewhat more substantial. Dated to 300 B.C. the Als Boat, or Hjortspring Boat, consists of five overlapping planks which are sewn together with spruce roots. In form it is knuckle sided with a thicker plank in place of the keel. It is double ended and meant to be paddled rather than rowed. At either end the sheer and bottom board sweep up in parallel curves. It has nine thwarts.

    A curious craft, dated to 100 A.D., exists known as the Bjorke Boat. It was found on an island west of Stockholm. Its hull is a dugout to which sheer planks have been added. These were riveted in place. What were the rivets made of? Were there roves? Were the roves dished? Surely by now you know better than to ask. Nobody says.

    Meanwhile, back in Britain:

    It was a dark and stormy night. . . But in the murky dawn that followed the poor Celt on picket duty with the sheep in Lincolnshire north of the Wash got the fright of his life when he saw their hulls just off the coast. Uffa, Offa, or Wuffa, or maybe all three and their clans, were arriving in force to put paid to Celtic independence. They were Angles. Or maybe they were Saxons. Could have been Jutes for all that. By now it hardly matters. They got their toehold and soon transformed it into a hammerlock the Celts have not fully recovered from to this day.

    Around 600 A.D. one of their big wigs cashed in. A large party was thrown to send him off in a fit manner to Valhol. They depleted breweries fifty miles away. About half way through the obsequies they dug a trench, moved a boat into it, placed His Magnificence in the special house built for the occasion and piously buried the whole works. About 1890 a curious curate or some such dug into the mound to see "What was what. What?" Fortunately, he had sense enough to stop before doing too much damage. I believe he didn't fancy the spade work. He took to writing letters to the Times about it instead. Forty years later a professional at the end of a project, and so of his tether, decided it was about time to get around to doing a proper dig. They didn't find the king. They didn't find the boat. What they found were the rivets. Painstakingly they lifted the dirt away until the impression of the hull was revealed. Careful measurement developed a set of lines for construction of a replica of the Sutton Hoo Ship.

    It is the earliest known rowed, riveted, lapstrake.

    I think.

    But it may not be. Maybe we can give this honor to another ship built 200 years earlier in 400 A.D. just in time for the invasion. One source says yes, definitely. Two or three others say no, unequivocally. The majority hold that the Nydam Ship was built in 800 A.D. in Southern Jutland. Well, either date makes it an Anglo-Saxon boat, so we'll give them credit for now and you can take your pick between 400 and 600.

    The Nydam Ship was found in better condition than the one at Sutton Hoo, so more construction details are available. The Nydam Ship lacks a true keel, having instead a thick plank bottom. A stem is fitted at either end of this. For each course of planks, a log was split. Each half was then shaped and faired with an adze or hatchet in such a way that integral cleats were formed on the inside at the rib stations. Each plank was rivetted to the next. Oak ribs were inserted next to the cleats and lashed to them. Branch crooks were lashed to the sheer for oarlocks. Lacking a stout keel, it could not be sailed.

    This was the new thing which drove the Celts bonkers and established the dull and plodding Lion next to the Unicorn.


    A Viking
    Out of the East they came like a plague unto Egypt! With fire and rage they plundered and killed!
    --conventional stereotype
    Ah, but put yourself in their place: As any but the first born son, there is nothing to inherit. The farm goes to the eldest born. You can stay on sufferance to work like a carl. Or you can go a Viking to trade, to win a new place, to see what the three sisters spinning fate have woven as your woof. You gather the trade goods of a long winter: Hides and ivory from the North, handcrafts such as iron and bronze castings, soapstone carvings and utensils, textiles, and so on, into three long ships and sail with the wind behind you (or row when it isn't) due West to Angleland.

    The whole sweaty trip Halfdan hasn't shut up about the mead in the pub on the other side. Now you can almost taste the stuff as you reach for every stroke. At last, with a heartening scrunch, the keel runs up the shingle. Now for that pub!

    "You there! Sirrahs! What is your business?"

    At the top of the dune a pompous body wrapped in furabouts and furbelows, squatting on a pony, and surrounded by a dozen or so mollys from the town stands in your way.

    "Well, Squirt," says Whortleburt (who has the Kirk Douglas part) "First we was gonna 1ift a few, and then maybe we was gonna do a deal, or two, see?"

    "Merchants, eh? Well, I'm the wallah in charge of customs, don't you see? Office is in Dorchester, fellow. Keep a civil tongue in your head and I'll overlook it for now. Must follow the rules, don't you know? What? Now, there's a good Squarehead, just fetch your cargo manifest, bills of lading, valuation forms, Master's papers, crew manifest, certificate of seaworthiness, social security cards, and, oh, yes, medical report from your last port. Come along, just eight miles. Brisk walk, do you good."

    He stopped with his jowls hanging slack as he watched Eric pitch into the pretty boy on his left. Some fool drew a sword and. . .

    The Viking age began. They were merchants as much as they were invaders, and they had a marvelous craft which allowed them to perform a kind of blitzkrieg, both in the military and mercantile sense, all over Europe during the next 250 years. Perhaps the best known example of this craft is the Gokstad ship of 850.

    The first obvious difference between this and the Nydam ship is the sail. Long strips of cloth of two colors were sewn together either in stripes or a checkered pattern to make the square sail. The spar is almost as long as the mast, and the whole rig fits inside the boat. The Gokstad is 76' long with a beam of 171/2" amidships. From keel to sheer amidships is 61/2" giving a draft when fully loaded of 3". Drooling time: Her keel was hewn from a single oak timber over 60' long. The ribs were lashed to the plank cleats with spruce roots, but not fastened to the keel. The planks were riveted to each other. The garboards and the next course were fastened to the keel. pilot holes and roves were used. She was a lively ship, downright limber in a swell. But she must have been considered a stiff old thing in her day, when compared to the sewn boats of granddad's day. No doubt that was harked back to as a golden age.

    Ships like this drove the Anglo-Saxons bonkers. Ethelred the Unrede built a reputation for listening to lousy advice which caused him to arrive in the wrong place or on the wrong day. History shows us a monarch spoiling for a fight, but just a little too dense to find it.

    Perhaps Alfred the Great had better advice, or, again, maybe he was smarter. In his youth he came close to loosing the whole shooting match down in Wessex. But his adherence to unfair guerilla tactics paid off just in the nick. Once he had won the hearts and minds and pacified the countryside, he wrote up his side of the affair in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. He left out one story. Once the Exchequer was rolling, Al decided it would be nice to have a navy. Not just any navy, but a modern, up-to-date navy: One with long ships. Ha! But his long ships would be bigger than the Vikings'! This was his mistake. And in making it, he fell into the bigger is better trap. Here's what happened.

    The summer after his fleet was commissioned, Al was champing at the bit, spoiling for a fight. When word came that Eric Bloodaxe (or some such quaintly titled kinglet) was out on a raid, Al galumphed down to Portsmouth and set to sea. It was almost worth it when he saw the look on Eric's face as (for once in his 1ife) he had to look up to see an Anglo-Saxon. Now, the way a sea battle was joined in those days is as follows. Both sides rowed their fleet together bow on. Each side tied their ships together so no wimp could depart before the whistle. The nastiest member of each crew went to the stem and began hacking at his opposite number with appropriate insults, vituperation and calumniations. Sooner or later one would give way and the other would hop aboard the enemy ship. Well, you don't enter this kind of fracas when the enemy ships not only outnumber you, but have 18 inches of free board on you as well. Naturally, Eric gave the order to sail west. Alfred pursued with a vast quantity of good natured hooting and hollering. Eric sailed his fleet between an island and the coast where the channel was quite shoal. Alfred was in hot pursuit, up until the greater draft of his dreadnoughts caused them to run aground. The Vikings sailed around the island, passing near Alfred to dip the colors, and went ashore to have fun.

    No wonder he didn't include this tale in his Chronicles. But the idea wasn't bad. Pretty soon a lot of kings all over Europe were building lapstrakes.

    And riveting them.

    The Last Great Viking Raid was in 1066 when William of Normandy (sometimes known as Bill Conq) settled the Anglo-Saxon's hash much as they had done the Celt's. The rest of the Viking world ran out of effervescence. They had proved themselves and had got religion. But they left an indelible mark on our world.

    For the next 500 years every ship built in Europe was a lapstrake. By Queen Elizabeth I's day lapstrake merchants and men o'war ships exceeding 100 feet in length were common.

    But, having jumped to 1600 in two sentences, we need to reconnoiter. Those wily Italians have done it again: Sprung something new on an unsuspecting world. The classic era is in vogue, so the traditional ways are no longer good enough if you can do a thing the way the Renaissance thinks the Greeks and Romans did it. Somebody dusted off the naval archives at Ostia and dragged out the carvel as the new miracle design which will solve all of the world's problems.

    Just in time too. Every salt in Europe was dashing off to the ends of the earth and finding them further off than anyone had thought. The Renaissance did do a bit of a redesign job on the carvel. They used longer planks. And they riveted instead of mortise and tenoning. But when it came to ships' boats, the carvel just couldn't manage. One week in the horse latitudes turned it into a bathtub shaped trellis. So the lapstrake continued in service because it could keep its seams shut on deck. Some of these were riveted, some were clenched, some displayed both. Since the history of small craft prior to 1700 has yet to appear in print, one can only conjecture that what we know existed shortly after 1700 must also have been around before then. Chancy business.


    On Arising In Search Of One's Other Extremity

    We have reached the verge of the Enlightenment rather like a pegleg sailor: We lack half our under pinnings. Let us return to secure them.

    Somewhat airily I dismissed the findings of Metallurgy after Enlil, for I was then in pursuit of how nails were used in boats. Now the topic is how nails are made. For that we need to consider how wire is made. Our old friends the encyclopedias have some light (albeit diffused) to shed on the subject. Both agree that the eldest reference is in Exodus where that worthy describes the decoration of Aaron's priestly garments. The material used seems to have been a form of wire. No doubt Enlil would have recognized the process which produced it. The ingot was beaten into a sheet. Then a length was sheared from it. With the tools available this would have been large and rather ragged. So the final step was beating it, turning the wire as they went to keep it from curling. Thus all wire was round in cross section. EXCEPT! when the queen said she wanted it square and the king said or else; and when the boat builders ordered some rivet stock, then the wire was made square by a great deal of effort. In the first case it was precious metal for jewelry. In the case of boats it was to stiffen the hull. Since the stiffer hull survived longer, there was a greater chance of the ship returning from a voyage.

    Making rivets by hand from this stuff was by no means a science, exact, or otherwise. Since the heads were formed by several glancing blows, they tended to be rather lumpy, higher in the center and sloping to a thin edge. Perhaps this gave rise to the predilection in some building traditions for a pyramid shaped head.

    By the sixth century A.D. the Venetians and the French are drawing wire. The first dies may have been adamant rocks with holes bored in them. Soon steel and cast iron plates replaced them. Such dies were hardened by heat tempering giving them a much longer life. The metal to be drawn was cast as a rod. One end was pointed to enter the die. This was grasped by the closest thing to a Sumo wrestler on the premises and rove through the die, drawing the wire. Successive passes reduced the wire to the desired gauge. Since the process was well established by the Viking Age, it is safe to assume that they drew wire for the rivets to build the long ships.

    An eddy of time, therefore, returns us to the construction site of the Gokstad ship. The largest crew is falling, splitting and shaping oaks under Gunnar's direction. But the second largest crew, under Olaf the master riveter, is set to draw the wire for the rivets. At the base of a small cliff a thin spur of granite juts out. This has been bored and then filed to form a series of square holes which will transform the metal from the rod to wire of a gauge appropriate for the ship.

    The day before, the crew rigged a crane on top of the cliff and hung from it a bosun's chair just before the drawing die. The expectant crowd gathers. Trygvee, Olaf's assistant, is seen pouring soap into the dies for lubrication. The metal is in place. And here comes Olaf! His mighty arms bared, his pigtails gleaming with pig fat. He sweeps off his horned helm as he bows to the crowd and takes his seat in the bosun's chair. No, it's not quite right. He gets out again. Rubs his feet in a box of sand, rubs some into his hands, and climbs back into the chair. This time he straps himself in. He plants his size fourteens on either side of the rock as he grasps the end of the rod. "Har ve go, 0le!" shouts Trygvee giving a push.

    Olaf takes the strain as the crowd holds its breath. Suddenly there is movement! A cheer rises. Feet fully extended, the chair all the way back, Olaf passes the end to one of the crew and swings back for a closer purchase. As the wire gets longer, more of the crew join on, and the wire draws faster.

    This was the origin of Tug o' War, which became a required part of the curriculum at wire drawing academies for the next several hundred years. Honest! They really did draw wire like that!

    By 1292 Paris had nine wire drawing establishments governed by a complex set of rules and procedures. They supplied the Armorers who required a prodigious amount of rivets to suit the nobility in the tin cans which were fashionable just then.

    Rudolf of Nurmburg was one of those crafty Germans one hears so much about. In 1350 he figured out a way to draw wire using water power. The crafty part is that he managed to keep the patent secret for the next 150 years. His progeny failed him however. One let a fellow named Eobanus Hessus in for a look around. Eobanus wandered into every corner exclaiming ingenuously, "Oh, my! However do you do all these clever, clever things. Mechanics is just too, too complicated for dim little me."

    Once Eobanus got back to his inn, he wrote out a very complete description in Latin. The level of public education was such that the customs officials didn't even raise an eyebrow over the sheet. The next thing Nurmburg knew, everybody was using water power to draw wire.

    Once you can hitch one power source to your machine, hitching a different one is small potatoes. By 1769 steam was doing the work. Now of course it is Grand Coulee and our suspect friend the atom.


    On the Maykinge of Nayles

    That loud noise was the industrial revolution. Its currents are just about to rock our boat in the wake of innovation. We can pinpoint the first shock to the year 1830, and the place to Connecticut. Unless, that is, you give credence to the 50 odd patent applications in the U.S. and Europe beginning in 1777 for "Machines with which to cut nayles." Let us wave this aside for the sake of dramaturgy and repair to the Connecticut state fair of 1830.

    Among the multitude of marvels at this veritable earthquake of entertainment, two concern us. They show the pinnacle of the past, and the fashion of the future.

    In the Hall of Crafts, Hiram Eustace, Smith of Groton, enters the nail making competition. As he enters the dim hall, excitement in the crowd is palpable. The forge is glowing. Several nail bars, 4' long, jut out of its maw like so many toothpicks. To one side is the anvil with a wedge shaped bit of steel at one end called a "Hardy". On a bench nearby area half dozen die blocks. Each contains a dozen wedge shaped holes to accommodate as many nails.

    Next to this is a rain barrel. An assistant stands ready to feed nail bar to the forge, work the bellows, and retrieve the filled die blocks from the water, empty them and set them ready again.

    Hiram is a proper smith. Not too tall, but plenty stout. He takes his stance before the forge, hammer in hand, and nods to the judge. This gent notes the time and shouts; "GO!"

    And Hiram goes. He grabs a cherry red tipped bar from the fire and lays it on the anvil. Two mighty wallops and the end is pointed. Back into the fire it goes. Next it goes to the hardy where a smart rap cuts the bar almost through. Hiram stuffs the end into the die block. A deft twist snaps the bar from the blank and down comes the hammer in a mighty blow to form the head. When the block is full he brushes it aside into the rain barrel where the still glowing nails temper, cool, and contract so the assistant can merely upend the block to empty the nails into the waiting barrel.

    Arms working like a human piston; body swaying from the waist to the fire, to the anvil, to the block. Over and over with never a rest all the long morning. All the long sunbaked post meridian. Through the weary night the glow of the forge illumines his weary face. Through the thin early morning, still he moves, and the hammer rings as before. But just after noon he falters. Then stops. "Done", he says. Duration: 30 hours. Production: 1600 dozen nails. Rate: 102/3 nails per minute. That was an expert, showing off. But the same process was used all over the western world up until that world record was set.

    Down by the riverside a fellow from Massachusetts name of Ezekial Hay was showing off his new machine. It was a queer contraption with enough cams and gears and flywheels to give James Watt heartburn. The water wheel drove it by means of flat leather belts. The machine ate f1at bar stock, 20' long. One at a time these entered the machine to rest on a stop. Then a sheer came down biting off a wedge shaped bit. This bit fell into a pair of grippers, short pieces of steel, which squeezed the blank in the middle and held it while a ram smacked the big end to form the head. The finished nail fell out the bottom of the mechanism' On the next revolution, the shear shifted to make the wedge the other way, and so on. Time: So long as the river runs. Production: 30 nails per minute. Hiram didn't know it, but he had just become extinct.

    And the fastening industry was born. (Flourish of trumpets, please, Maestro!)

    Well, for a time, this was what the world was looking for. Over the next several decades they got the speed up to a respectable 50 nails per minute. The world put the cut nail to work building houses, cabinets, coffins, barns, shoes, boxes, oh, yes, and boats. Both for riveting and clenching, boat builders figured out how to make the cut nail work. So did the house carpenters. And farmers. And others. For some applications it was just slick, but for several Others it "warn't all the package said it would be." The mutterings were heard by the engineers and such. By the 1850's they had a new answer. By and large it has solved the various problems until this very day. It is the wire nail maker.

    This machine uses wire in a variety of materials gauges and shapes to form nails. One revolution of the shaft performs the following actions on the wire to produce the nail. We begin with the wire secured in the grippers, with the end sticking out. A ram smooshes this to form the head. As the ram retreats, the grippers open, and a lever pulls the wire from the spool to the length of the nail. The grippers close again, just before the cutters (two carved, opposed pieces of hard steel) close on the wire forming the point and cutting the nail from the wire. A finger driven by the ram ensures that the nail is free of the wire as the ram moves forward to make the next head.

    The Scientific American (a successor publication of the journal cited earlier, I believe) in 1910 carried an article on the dramatic breakthrough in the production speed of the wire nail maker. Thanks to precision machining, nails were capable of being produced at speeds of 120 per minute. The pursuit of dizzying speeds had only begun. During the '30's, the Germans, when not otherwise engaged, developed the use of tungsten carbide cutters, and very precise machining to make nails at the rate of 700 per minute. England and the United States lagged behind in the nail making gap. By the end of World War II, our machines were doing a bare 300. To rectify this, a joint commission of British MI 5 and the OSS descended on the Ruhr Valley nai1eries in 1945, micrometers in hand, to fathom the secrets of the cunning Hun. Their top secret report was mandatory bedside reading during the late forties for engineers employed by outfits like US Steel. The result was that by the 1950's nails were being produced at speeds up to 900 pieces per minute. This had some very pleasant effects on the bottom line of the large naileries. But that bottom line stuff got in the way of some consumers. Boat builders, for instance. There just weren't enough of them to justify exotics like rivets.

    Perhaps a closer view of a modern nail production facility will give you a clearer picture of why this is so.

    Welcome to Pennsylvania Iron and Steel's Goes (Ohio) Nail plant, here in the garden spot of the Ohio River. On either side of the paved street leading to the administrative offices are twelve long brick sheds. Each of these has a bay door in its end. As we approach No.6, you may note the sign: Warning Hearing Protection Required. Already the din suggests that this may not be one of the OSHA rules some people ridicule. Upon entering, all doubt is removed. Up the center of the shed a street runs with forklift trucks shuttling 500 to 1000 pound reels of wire to various points along the way and picking up bins of finished nails. On both sides of this are the stock reels. Beyond them, hunkered down like a troop of trolls, are the nail makers. Every 10 feet another one sits munching wire and spitting out nails. The current price of one of these today, incidentally, exceeds $25,000. Depending on the rate of wire consumption, one man tends between 4 and 12 machines. Closest to the door the first machine makes 12d common nails. The next machine makes 1Od, the next 8d, and so on. If at all possible, the machine never makes any but one specific nail three shifts a day, 7 days a week. For why? Well, the guy tending the machines now makes in excess of $20 per hour, whether his machine is making nails, or whether he is tinkering with the machine. Tinkering can go on for some time, so the management prefers to avoid it.

    This is called "efficiency." This kind of thinking allows a handful corporations to produce more than 500,000 tons of nails annually in the United States alone. These are consumed at the rate of 390 pounds per average five room frame house. This kind of thinking makes it impractical for these outfits to produce copper rivets and clench nails for woodenboat builders. There just aren't enough boats built to keep one machine busy. How many more are needed to get them interested? Skookum Fastenings sells about a ton a year of copper fastenings in three gauges, two tempers, three types, and 12 different lengths. Machine time on Thrice Noble Fred to produce these amounts to something like 25 hours (exclusive of about three months setup time). The big outfits are making a ton of nails per machine per shift. So if wooden boat builders were increased a hundred fold, still the industry could only give a yawn. That's what efficiency does for you, it convinces you you can't afford to do something.

    It is interesting to contemplate where this mad pursuit of speed and efficiency is leading us. As more nails are found uneconomic, and discontinued, the old obsolete machines are rebuilt or put on the block. Who buys them? Japan, Brazil, India, Zimbabwe, Singapore. Oh, yes, and Skookum Fastenings bought one also. So maybe this shouldn't seem too gloomy. Fred is old. He's slow, he's obsolete, he's cantankerous. But on my better days I manage to coax some decent nails out of him so you good people can build boats.

    My feet are tired. And your -- you are tired. As Mark Twain remarked, it is a terrible death to be talked to death. So I will reserve further consideration of the economics of the nail trade for another day, and pause here, to give you an opportunity to escape.
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