Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Papal Penchant for Coffee.

January 30

There is a recurring, and probably apocryphal story, that pops up all the time in articles on the history of coffee, and it relates to Pope Clement VIII who was elected on this day in 1592. Ippolito Aldobrandini was of a distinguished Florentine family before he got the Big Job, and Italy was the place in Europe where the potential of coffee was first taken seriously. The problem was that coffee was an ‘Arab drink’, and Clement was as profoundly anti-Islam as he was anti-Semitic. On this basis his advisers wanted it banned, but unfortunately he (and no doubt another powerful lobby group) rather enjoyed it. So, the story goes, he had it baptized, thus converting it to a truly Christian drink. I have never seen a shred of evidence that there is a shred of truth in this story, but will reserve full approval until either I have time to research it, or – even better – someone else lets me know the truth.

There were, however, repeated attempts by leaders in various places to ban coffee in those early centuries of its progress through Europe. There were two broad reasons why this happened: (a) it was new and suspect on that ground alone, and (b) coffee making and drinking required special equipment so could not be done at home (at that stage) and therefore people gathered in coffee houses – with the potential for chatting about rebellion over a few cups.

There was one other interesting petition asking for the banning of coffee, and it is real enough – or at least the paper is real, although the actual writers and actual intent are not so certain. It is, however, absolutely hilarious. It is the Women’s Petition Against Coffee – a broadsheet dated 1674. The writers (‘several thousands of Buxome Good-Women) complain it makes their men impotent, and distracts them when they are sent out for the midwife. I give you an edited version below – it continues on for quite some time on the same theme. If you would like the full transcription, please email me.

To the Right Honorable the Keepers of the Liberties of Venus… The Humble Petition and Addrss of several Thousands of Buxome Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want.


That since ‘tis Reckon’d amonst the Glories of our Native Country, To be a Paradise for Women: The same in our Apprehensions can consist in nothing more than the brisk Activity of our men, who in former Ages were justly esteemed the Ablest Performers in Christendome; But to our unspeakable Grief, we find of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour; our Gallants being in every way so Frenchified, that they are become meer Cock-sparrows, fluttering things that come on Sa sa, with a world of Fu[ry] but are not able to stand to it, and in the very first Charge fall down flat before us. Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever. There was a glorious Dispensation (‘twas surely in the Golden Age) when Lusty Ladds of seven or eight hundred years old Got Sons and Daughters; and we have read, how a Prince of Spain was forced to make a Law, that Men should not Repeat the Grand Kindness to their Wives above NINE times in a night; but Alas! Alas! Those forwards Days are gone; the dull Lubbers want a Spur now, rather than a Bridle; being so far from doing any works of Supererregation that we find them not capable of performing those Devoirs which their Duty, and our Expectations Exact.

The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a serious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish liquor called COFFEE, which Rifling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radi[c]al Moisture, has so Eunuch[t] our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent as Age, and as unfruitful as those Desarts whence that unhappy Berrry is said to be brought.

For the continual sipping of this pittiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpice-point without a Charm. It renders them that use it as Lean as Famine, as Rivvel’d as Envy, or an old meager Hagg over-ridden by an Incubus. They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears; …

The Recipe for the Day …

It was some long time before coffee was used as a recipe ingredient, and I refer you to the Coffee Archive for a selection. Today I thought I would take as my topic the other theme in the story, and I give you a recipe for Matrimonial Cake (or Matrimony Cake) – so called presumably because there are two distinct mixes, united in one dish. It is an oldish theme, and we have touched on it before with Matrimony pudding and sauce. This particular interpretation seems to have been a Canadian invention of the ‘30’s – although I stand to be corrected on that statement. This version is from an American newspaper (Elyria, Ohio) in 1933.

Matrimonial Cake
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups pastry flour
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp soda
1 cup butter or oil
1 lb stoned dates
¼ cup brown sugar
juice of 1-2 lemons
1 ½ cups boiling water.
Cook slowly over a low fire until soft. Cool. Mix often to prevent burning.
Mix all dry ingredients with butter. Grease shallow cake pan. Cover with ½ of ingredients and then cover withdate filling and with balance of dry ingredients . Bake in oven at 325 degrees F. for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. When cold, serve with whipped cream. Serves about 15.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Restoring the Cooks Palate

Quotation for the Day …

Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow they may make it illegal. Anon.

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