Friday, January 27, 2006

The Baronet’s Egg.

Today, January 27th …

This day in 1860 was the birthday of Sir George Sitwell, father of the writers Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell, and a superb example of an aristocratic eccentric in a country that excels in them. It might be truer, but less kind, to say his hold on reality was tenuous all his life. When he was a child travelling with his nurse, he announced to another passenger "I am Sir George Sitwell, baronet. I am four years old and the youngest baronet in England." Like all true eccentrics, he never achieved the capacity to see himself as others saw him.

Aristocratic birth and wealth facilitate eccentricity of course, as they allows the pursuit of bizarre whims and strange projects, and George had many of them. He was a prolific writer (although only one book was published), genealogist, antiquarian, and inventor of all sorts of oddities such as a musical toothbrush, a small gun for shooting wasps, and a convenient travel food which he called “The Sitwell Egg”. The “yolk” was made of smoked meat, the “white” made of rice, and a shell of synthetic lime. He supposedly arrived unannounced at the office of Sir Gordon Selfridge, wearing his usual silk hat and frock coat and saying “I am Sir George Sitwell, and I have brought my egg with me”. Sir Gordon may have been amused, but he was not impressed: Selfridges did not subsequently stock the Sitwell egg.

George firmly believed that everything was done better in the past, so perhaps his inspiration came from one of the “illusion foods” of Medieval times, such as this Lenten Egg from a fifteenth century English manuscript.

Eggs in Lent.
Take eggs, and blow out that is within at the other end; then wash the shell clean in warm water; then take good milk of almonds, and set it on the fire; then take a fair canvas, & pour the milk thereon, & let run out the water; then take it out of the cloth, &; gather it together with a platter; then put sugar enough thereto; then take half of it, & color it with saffron, a little, & powdered cinnamon; then take & do the white in the nether end of the shell, & in the middle the yolk, & fill it up with the white; but not too full, then set it in the fire & roast it, & serve forth

On Monday: Dinner with the Crown Prince.

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